The Venezuelan government stepped up its attacks on Tuesday on opposition primaries last weekend to choose a challenger to President Nicolas Maduro next year.
CARACAS, Venezuela — The Venezuelan government stepped up its attacks Tuesday on last weekend’s opposition primaries to choose a challenger to President Nicolas Maduro next year, saying voter turnout reported by organizers was inflated and amounted to a crime.
National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez said the partial results, which showed the participation of at least 1.6 million voters, were mathematically impossible given the number of voting centers available and the time it takes a person to cast their vote.
“What happened last Sunday was not an election, it was a farce, it was a fraud,” Rodriguez said Tuesday. He added: “Since we knew that they were planning a farce, we placed a person in each polling station and counted one by one, minute by minute, hour by hour.”
Maria Corina Machado, a long-time government foe and former lawmaker, has already declared herself the winner of Sunday’s election after results showed her with a wide lead over nine other candidates. Partial results published by the National Preliminary Organizing Committee showed that after counting 65% of the tally lists, Machado received 1,473,105 votes, or approximately 93% of the total. Her closest competitor received just under 70,819 votes, or just over 4%.
The primaries were open to all registered voters inside Venezuela and nearly 400,000 people living abroad. Within the South American country, voters braved repression, censorship and weather to turn out, even in neighborhoods once considered strongholds of the ruling party.
The strong turnout by Venezuelans inside and outside their homeland demonstrated a deep desire to find an alternative to Maduro’s decade-long, crisis-torn presidency.
Opposition-led efforts have struggled in the past to keep participants’ names secret, and voter fears could be reignited by the surveillance of voting centers that Rodriguez described on Tuesday.
In 2004, a pro-government lawmaker posted online the names of millions of people who had signed a petition to hold a referendum to remove then-President Hugo Chavez. Many of those on the list said they lost their jobs and government aid after their names became public.
Holding Venezuela’s first presidential primaries since 2012 required a deeply divided opposition to work together. This in itself was an achievement. But it could still prove futile, if Maduro’s government desires.
While the administration last week agreed in principle to let the opposition choose its candidate for the 2024 presidential election, Machado remains officially barred from running for office. The Maduro government has in the past twisted the law, retaliated against opponents, and broken agreements as it saw fit.
Last week’s agreement was part of a two-year negotiation process between Maduro’s government and an opposition faction backed by the US government. The agreement calls on the two sides to work together on electoral conditions before next year’s elections.
Rodriguez, Maduro’s chief negotiator, said on Tuesday that he planned to call a meeting with his opposition counterpart and a Norwegian diplomat, who has been directing the dialogue process, to address alleged violations of the agreement.
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”