Rain or Fire, María Corina Machado Won the Primaries by a Landslide

Isolated cases of violence from colectivos, rainstorms, baseless fraud accusations from a rogue candidate and censorship didn’t avoid María Corina Machado from winning the Venezuelan opposition primaries

“Behind every vote cast today there’s a life of struggle, pain, loss, desires and love. There’s a vote of rebellion, of defiance,” screamed María Corina Machado, wearing a blue satin shirt, with two of her children at her side on the stage soon after winning the 2023 opposition primaries. “In those centers where there were attacks and people returned. In those centers where that storm fell on us and no one flinched and with dignity we spent the hours that had to be spent”. She went on as the national anthem started playing and dozens of fireworks exploded behind her. A multi-party crowd cheered in a small street in Altamira (next to Vente Venezuela’s headquarters), represented on the stage by Delsa Solórzano, Freddy Superlano, Andrés Velásquez and Biagio Pilieri. With over 93% of the votes in the preliminary results, Machado—once a fringe politician to the party establishment—became the new leader of the opposition. 

Machado—who was recently banned from running for office by the government of Nicolás Maduro—spoke in plural terms, announcing a Great National Alliance with all parties and organizations that want to “end the tyranny” and “displace and evict the system.” She repeated her mantra hasta el final (until the end), but then explained that it isn’t the end but “the beginning of the end.” She talked about the value of the vote and vowed to oust Maduro in the 2024 presidential elections. She also talked about creating governability before winning the elections, perhaps stressing the importance or the possibility of negotiations to reform Venezuelan institutions. 

Despite an internet outage that caused server problems for the National Commission of Primaries, a first bulletin of results was issued after counting 26.06% of the ballots (more than 601,000 votes). 

  • María Corina Machado — 93,13%
  • Carlos Prósperi — 4.75%
  • Delsa Solórzano — 0.77%
  • Andrés Caleca — 0.57%
  • César Pérez Vivas — 0.28%
  • Andrés Velásquez — 0.18%
  • Luis Farías — 0.11%
  • Gloria Pinho — 0.09%
  • Tamara Adrián — 0.07%
  • César Almeida — 0.05%

Even when the self-organized nature of the primaries, censorship and problems at allocating voting centers caused important obstacles for the process, turnout was higher than expected. Estimates go between 1.5 million and 2.3 million—a high number for a primary election, especially in such adverse conditions, and higher than the projected 8% participation. In fact, there was a shortage of voting materials in a handful of states. While voting stations were supposed to close at 4:00 p.m., many remained open until 8:00 p.m. due to the high turnout. “I must say our expectations were quite exceeded,” Machado said during the day.

Mass mobilization wasn’t limited to wealthy east Caracas. There were long lines in Propatria, La Candelaria, Catia and El Paraíso. Other low-income areas of Caracas like Antímano, San Martín (despite threats from colectivos), La Vega and El Valle also had high turnout. Voter turnout has also been high in places like Santa Elena de Uairén, Puerto Píritu, Tumeremo, Acarigua, Puerto Ordaz and Nirgua. In Carabobo, turnout was even high in Chavista areas.  And the rain didn’t stop the voters, as videos showed people with umbrellas under the storm standing still in line in low-income and lower-middle class Caracas neighborhoods Propatria and La Candelaria.

Both Henrique Capriles and Manuel Rosales voted in the primaries, despite their mixed relations with the process. Recently released former political prisoner Roland Carreño also voted.

What About the Government?

The Venezuelan government ordered radio and television stations to censor this Sunday’s opposition primaries, according to a series of complaints received by the press union. Táchira also woke up without fuel, a situation that could have affected the mobilization of voters in a particularly pro-opposition state. Gasoline shortages were reported in other states, including areas of Caracas. A politically-motivated shutoff?

“Behind every vote cast today there’s a life of struggle, pain, loss, desires and love. There’s a vote of rebellion, of defiance,” screamed María Corina Machado, wearing a blue satin shirt, with two of her children at her side on the stage soon after winning the 2023 opposition primaries.

There were isolated reports of violence from Chavista militants and colectivos. In Santa Rosalía, in downtown Caracas, a box with 350 ballots was stolen by alleged security forces. 1,200 people voted afterwards anyway. Colectivos prevented the installation of the voting center in El Guarataro, a slum in Caracas, and an intentional trash fire temporarily stopped voters from participating in La Estrella square. In Western Caracas, colectivos  fired into the air in Las Acacias and threw a tear gas bomb in Santa Rosalía. In both cases, voters returned to the voting centers afterwards. In Catia, Chavistas played loud pro-Chávez music at the voting center. People kept voting. Chavista groups also threatened the San José de Tarbes nuns in Caracas. The voting center had to be moved somewhere else.

There were also isolated reports of threats and violence in other parts of the country. Some people shot at a polling station in El Limón, Aragua. In Maturín, PSUV members intimidated voters.

Prosperi’s Quagmire

But the primaries were not only threatened by Chavismo. On Friday, Acción Democrática asked the National Commission of Primaries to postpone the primaries. For weeks, the party’s candidate –Carlos Prosperi, who was showing very low numbers in the polls– had been publicly criticizing the logistics of the process. AD then said that Vente Venezuela –Machado’s party– has a “disproportionate” amount of polling supervisors, blaming the NGO Súmate which Machado once led.

But, in fact, AD nominated 10,000 fewer people than Vente to be polling station members in the primaries. Furthermore, Prosperi’s team decided to cover only 70% of the centers while Vente covered all of them. The disproportion AD denounces had a clear origin.

AD then met with the Commission afterwards. Afterwards, Prosperi slammed its members, called Súmate an “appendix” of Machado’s campaign and then said he’d remain in the race. The next day, he called electoral journalist Eugenio Martínez “a mythomaniac” for tweeting data from the National Commission of Primaries.

The situation reached a boiling point during Sunday evening. A video was leaked of Prosperi announcing that he wouldn’t recognize the results because the primaries were a “disaster.” He implied a future parallel candidacy. Afterwards, Acción Democrática (AD) said they “recognize the healthy development of the primary” and that they “stand with unity,” a message that seems to reject Prosperi’s words in the leaked video. Previously, a member of the party board publicly criticized Prosperi’s words.

In fact, before the video was leaked, Prosperi was booed in his voting centers by other voters. Meanwhile, Jesús María Casal –president of the National Commission of Primaries– was welcomed with applauds and the cry of “yes we can!” in his voting center.

On Monday, Henry Ramos Allup –AD’s strongman– publicly rejected Prosperi’s statement, recognized the results and announced his party support to Machado. Prosperi, meanwhile, published a long statement talking once again about “irregularities” and neither recognizing or celebrating Machado’s victory, unlike the rest of the pre-candidates of the opposition, including Henrique Capriles, which announced their support. 

María Corina Machado –who has had a difficult history in establishing alliances with other sectors of the opposition–  must now lead a coalition of dissimilar parties and leaders to channel domestic and international pressure to force the government to lift the ban on her. Although the possibilities are slim, the US Department of State –in a statement regarding the six-month sanctions relief conditional on electoral guarantees–- gave the government a deadline until the end of November to establish a schedule and mechanism for the lifting of bans from running for office for all candidates. Machado, who announced the start of her presidential campaign, meanwhile will go hasta el final: although that may, if the ban isn’t lifted, mean the appointment of a substitute candidate who isn’t banned and who will carry the mandate that Machado received from Venezuelan opposition voters last night.

Tony Frangie Mawad

Tony (1997) is one of Caracas Chronicles' editors, where he writes since 2016. He graduated in Journalism and Political Science from Boston University in 2021. Since then, he has written at Bloomberg, The Economist, Politico and others.