Venezuelan Court Orders Suspension on Opposition Primary

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s electoral court said it is suspending “all effects” of the opposition primaries days after President Nicolás Maduro called the vote a fraud, potentially souring a US-brokered deal.

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The court ordered primary organizers to hand over documents in coming days, including voting sheets that have already been destroyed. The order comes days after Public Prosecutor Tarek William Saab, a close Maduro ally, said he would probe the results to look into allegations of fraud and usurpation of functions that properly belong to the electoral authority.

Former lawmaker María Corina Machado won around 93% of the vote in the primaries on a turnout of about 2.5 million people. She is barred from running for public office until 2030.

The court also ordered the organizers to hand over Machado’s nomination papers. She was proclaimed as the winner, and therefore opposition candidate for the 2024 presidential vote, on Thursday.

“To say that something that is already finished is suspended does not make much sense,” said Alí Daniels, director of Access to Justice, a Caracas-based nonprofit. “The most important things were already done: the counting, proclamation of a winner and elimination of books.”

It could be a step toward a broader move by Maduro’s regime, according to Jesús Castellanos, a former electoral authority official and academic now based in Chile. “Legally, they could be looking for arguments to sanction the primary commission, ratify the disqualification of María Corina Machado or persecute others,” he said.

Venezuela’s government restarted Norway-mediated talks with the opposition this month after signing an agreement on electoral guarantees in Barbados on Oct. 17. The US later suspended some of its sanctions on the Andean nation.

According to a State Department spokesperson, the US government is closely following the implementation of the deal and will take action if Maduro and his representatives do not meet their commitments.

Maduro’s negotiator in that process, National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez, said last week the opposition has breached the terms of that deal by “inflating” the numbers in the primary vote. The opposition dismissed the accusations, arguing the primaries are protected by the agreement.

Organizers had promised to burn the voting sheets in order to promote participation in the primaries, given Venezuelans are wary of a repeat of the the so-called Tascon List. The list was used by Maduro’s late predecessor in 2004 to fire state workers and bar others from jobs or loans for having signed a petition for a recall referendum, which former President Hugo Chavez eventually survived.

(Adds State Department comment in eighth paragraph)

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