Venezuelan Opposition Blocked from Election, Dimming Democratic Hopes

First, it was María Corina Machado, a popular former legislator. Then, it was supposed to be Corina Yoris, a little-known philosophy professor. Now, an opposition coalition has put forward a former diplomat, Edmundo González, as their third candidate to run against President Nicolás Maduro in elections scheduled in July.That is, at least for now.The coalition of opposing political parties, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, has been hoping for months to unite behind a single candidate who could make a viable challenger to Mr. Maduro.But as the rapidly shifting lineup of potential candidates makes clear, the Maduro government has been putting up a series of obstacles to prevent that goal.On Monday, a national electoral commission controlled by allies of Mr. Maduro used a technical maneuver to prevent the coalition from putting Ms. Yoris on the ballot. It was the last day for presidential candidates to register for the July vote, and it seemed that the effort to field a unified candidate had been defeated.Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the coalition announced on the social media platform X that the electoral authority had granted it an extension and that it had “decided to provisionally register” Mr. González, whom it identified as the president of the Democratic Unity Roundtable’s board of directors.Getting Mr. González on the ballot, the opposition said on X, would allow the coalition “to continue fighting” for democracy, as it looks to challenge the presidency of Mr. Maduro, whose repressive rule has left Venezuela in financial ruin and helped push out roughly one-fourth of its population.“This opens the door for a stronger starting point for the rest of the opposition to negotiate what will happen,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, who researches Venezuela for the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based organization. “Overall, it’s good news”The provisional candidacy of Mr. González — who could be serving only as a place-holder, with parties able to swap in alternatives for the next few weeks — was only the latest in a series of whiplash-inducing developments around who would be running against Mr. Maduro in July’s vote.The Democratic Unity Roundtable announced last week that it had agreed to put forward Ms. Yoris, 80, to run against Mr. Maduro in a show of unity after the country’s highest court in January barred Ms. Machado from the ballot; the former lawmaker was widely considered to be a significant threat to Mr. Maduro.The naming of Ms. Yoris briefly raised hopes that a free and fair election might be possible. But as the week progressed, Ms. Yoris said she was unable to get access to the digital platform set up by the country’s electoral authority to register as a candidate.Every authorized political organization in Venezuela is given a code to gain access to the electoral platform. But both Ms. Yoris’s party, A New Era, as well as the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, said that their codes were not working, preventing them from registering Ms. Yoris.“We have exhausted all avenues,” Ms. Yoris said in a news conference on Monday morning. “The whole country is left with no choice if I can’t sign up.”As the day went on, confusion ensued amid signs that behind the scenes the government was trying to pull the levers of power and ensure an electoral field that would give Mr. Maduro a better chance of winning.Just minutes before the registration deadline, the New Era party inexplicably was allowed to register a different candidate: Manuel Rosales, the party’s founder and governor of the populous state of Zulia, whose entry into the race was seen by political analysts as rubber-stamped by Mr. Maduro. Mr. Rosales, in a speech on Tuesday before the registration of Mr. González was announced, said he intended to run a rigorous campaign, vowing to “lead the biggest rebellion of votes that has ever existed.”Two other candidates registered on Monday, bringing the total number running in the election to 13, including Mr. Maduro. Most are considered close to the president, and none are regarded as serious challengers.“There is no doubt that Maduro wants to choose who to run against and is afraid to run against anyone who represents a threat to him,” Ms. Taraciuk Broner said.It was not clear on Tuesday why the government had allowed Mr. González to register and what it might mean for the candidacy of Mr. Rosales.The continuing confusion over who is and is not allowed to run is a deliberate tactic of the Maduro administration to sow distrust among the electorate and divide the vote, according to Rafael Uzcátegui, a sociologist and a director of the Peace Laboratory, a human rights organization based in Caracas.In October, Mr. Maduro signed an accord with the country’s opposition and agreed to work toward a free and fair presidential vote. Mr. Maduro said he would hold an election before the end of this year, and, in exchange, the United States, in a sign of good will, lifted some economic sanctions.Days later, Ms. Machado won more than 90 percent of the vote to choose an opposition candidate, in a primary election run by a commission without the involvement of the government. The decisive results underscored her popularity and raised the prospect that she could beat Mr. Maduro in a general election.Three months later, the country’s top court, filled with government loyalists, declared Ms. Machado ineligible to run over what the judges claimed were financial irregularities that occurred when she was a national legislator.Six of Ms. Machado’s campaign aides have been arrested in recent weeks, and six more have arrest warrants against them and are in hiding. Men on motorbikes have attacked supporters at her events.The government has not commented on the opposition’s struggles to register.The country’s vice president, Delcy Rodríguez, announced on Sunday on X the creation of a state commission against fascism to address threats by “centers of power at the service of the global north.”An unclassified U.S. intelligence report from February stated that Mr. Maduro was likely to win the election and remain in power “because of his control of state institutions that influence the electoral process and his willingness to exercise his power.”While the Maduro administration had placed allies on the electoral council, the intelligence report said it was “also trying to avoid blatant voting fraud.”Mr. Maduro, after registering to vote on Monday, claimed, without evidence, that two members of Ms. Machado’s party had tried to kill him that afternoon during a march to celebrate his registration. The party, Come Venezuela, denies that.In his remarks, he criticized members of the opposition, calling them “lackeys of the right.”“They dedicated themselves to ask for sanctions against society and the economy, to ask for the blockade and the invasion of their own country,” he said. “They do not think for themselves; they do not act for themselves. They are pawns in the U.S. empire’s game to take over Venezuela.”“On July 28,” he added, addressing the opposition, “there will be elections with you or without you.”

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