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Explainer-What could happen in Venezuela’s opposition primary?

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© Maria Corina Machado, candidate of the Vente Venezuela party for the opposition primaries, meets with her supporters after a press conference, in Caracas, Venezuela September 6, 2023. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo

By Vivian Sequera

CARACAS () – Venezuela’s opposition will hold a primary on Sunday to pick its candidate for 2024 presidential elections, despite the front-runner being barred from holding office. President Nicolas Maduro is expected to seek another term.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?

The primary is the first the opposition has held in 11 years. It has not backed a presidential candidate in a general election since 2013.

The government and the opposition said in a joint agreement signed on Tuesday that each side can choose its candidate according to its own internal rules.

The primary could be a chance for the opposition to rally support from voters in Venezuela, whose economy has been in deep crisis for years.

The U.S. has long said it would lift some of its sanctions on Maduro’s government in exchange for democratic concessions from the president. Sources this week said Washington would consider some relief in response to Tuesday’s deal.

Opposition politicians have organized the primary without state assistance after the National Electoral Council took months to respond to a request for logistical help.

WHAT ARE PUBLIC OFFICE BANS AND WHY ARE THEY RELEVANT?

Officials who are found guilty of corruption are banned from holding public office for up to 15 years.

Venezuela’s opposition says the government uses bans unlawfully to prevent them from competing in elections.

Maria Corina Machado, who is expected to win the primary, has been barred from holding public office since June, because she supported U.S. sanctions on the Maduro government and backed former opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Two other candidates, of the thirteen originally registered for the primary, have dropped out because of their own bans.

The deal on Tuesday did not include lifting of the bans, with the head of the government delegation saying those with administrative sanctions cannot participate in the election.

WHAT HAPPENS IF A BANNED CANDIDATE WINS THE PRIMARY?

It is unclear what will happen if a disqualified candidate wins.

Machado has said if she is the victor, she could put pressure on the electoral council to let her register for the general election.

Others have argued a succession mechanism to replace her would be necessary, and several candidates have said there is no unified decision about what to do.

It remains unclear whether the often-fractious opposition would accept Machado choosing someone else to run in her place.

WHEN WILL THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TAKE PLACE?

Tuesday’s deal between the opposition and the government said the vote will happen in the latter half of 2024, but gave no specific date.

Venezuela’s elections traditionally take place in December, though in 2018 voting was brought forward to May.

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