Exiled Venezuelan Leader Pushes for Primaries to Confront Maduro

Exiled Venezuelan Leader Pushes for Primaries to Confront Maduro

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said the country should hold primaries to select a candidate to rival Nicolas Maduro in the 2024 presidential elections before the end of the year.

In front of a packed auditorium at his alma mater, Harvard University, on Monday evening, Lopez called the vote “the one path forward that can mobilize the Venezuelan people,” signaling a shift in position for a bloc of the opposition that has boycotted elections for years. 

Exiled Venezuelan Leader Pushes for Primaries to Confront Maduro

Lopez, a 51-year-old leader of the Popular Will party headed by Juan Guaido, said participating in the presidential vote will hinge on free and fair voting conditions, such as the government inviting independent electoral observers and allowing banned opposition candidates to participate. Many opposition leaders, including Lopez, have been prohibited by Maduro’s government from running for public office.

Venezuela is set to elect a president in two years, after what will be a combined 25 years of rule by Maduro and late Hugo Chavez. Although the government continues to be widely rejected by Venezuelans, opposition leaders are undergoing a popularity crisis. None has an approval rating higher than 13%, according to the latest survey by local pollster Datanalisis.

Through a primary vote, the parties would select regional opposition leaders as well as its representatives abroad, Lopez said. The idea has preliminary support from within the deeply divided opposition. Various representatives from the opposition plan to meet in the coming weeks to solidify the plan, which includes creating a broader, unified coalition. 

Guaido, considered by the U.S. as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, said on Saturday that the opposition must prepare “immediately” for a primary-like process to strengthen unity and legitimize leaderships. Juan Pablo Guanipa, leader of the opposition’s Justice First party, has said the vote should be carried by January, while more conservative leaders like Maria Corina Machado are willing to participate as long as the electoral authority is not involved. 

Representatives from other opposition parties and Guaido’s team didn’t immediately replied to request for comment. 

“There is no way for the opposition to build a new cycle without legitimacy, and that legitimacy will come directly from people,” Lopez said in an interview before the event at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He graduated with a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard in 1996 and ran for public office for the first time four years later, beginning his political career as mayor of Caracas’ Chacao municipality. He has been lobbying for Guaido from Madrid since fleeing Venezuela in 2020.

Some members of the opposition have boycotted elections since 2017 due to claims of widespread fraud and voter manipulation, which has allowed Guaido to hold onto his U.S.-recognized role and for Maduro’s socialist party to capture most of the country’s regional powers. 

The opposition last held primaries in 2012, ahead of a heated presidential election that re-elected Chavez with a difference of 1.6 million votes.

“It’s not going to be easy to do because you’re trying to run a free and fair election in a dictatorship that wants to undermine your capacity to organize,” Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard economist who served as the nation’s planning minister in the 1990s, said in an interview following the event. 

“But if it were to happen, it would redetermine the political leadership that Venezuelans want to see.”

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