Venezuela’s 2024 Presidential Election: What to Know

Venezuela’s 2024 Presidential Election: What to Know

The outcome of Venezuela’s presidential election, which will take place on July 28, will be consequential for the future of the country’s democracy, as well as for the more than seven million Venezuelans who have abandoned the country and have contributed to a migrant surge in the United States.

For the past 25 years Venezuela’s government has been controlled by Chavismo, the socialist movement that began with the democratic election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 and has since grown more authoritarian. When Mr. Chávez died in 2013 his protégé Nicolás Maduro narrowly won the presidency.

Venezuela’s economy imploded nearly a decade ago, prompting one of the world’s largest displacements in Latin American history. The flow of Venezuelans and other migrants to the United States has become a dominant theme in the U.S. presidential campaign.

This is the first Venezuelan election in more than a decade in which an opposition candidate has a reasonable — if slim and improbable — chance at winning.

At stake is also the future of Venezuela’s oil reserves, the world’s largest; the continued strength of the country’s alliances with China, Russia and Iran; and the trajectory of an internal humanitarian crisis that has propelled a once prosperous nation into immense suffering.

It’s already clear that the election won’t be entirely free and fair.

Mr. Maduro, 61, controls the legislature, the military, the police, the justice system, the national election council, the country’s budget and much of the media, not to mention violent paramilitary gangs called colectivos.

The Maduro government has detained and jailed 10 opposition members since January. Five others have warrants out for their arrest and are hiding out in the Argentine Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital.

A proposal in the legislature would allow the government to suspend the opposition’s campaign at any moment. Many Venezuelans living abroad have been unable to register to vote because of expensive and cumbersome requirements.

And even if a majority of voters cast their ballots against Mr. Maduro, there is widespread doubt that he would allow the results to become public — or accept them if they do.

If Mr. Maduro does give up power, it would almost certainly be the result of an exit deal negotiated with the opposition in which he would likely seek to be shielded from prosecution in an international court over charges of crimes against humanity.

Despite all the obstacles the government has put up to prevent credible elections, it did allow a former diplomat, Edmundo González, to register as the candidate representing a coalition of opposition parties. Mr. González became the surprise consensus candidate of the opposition after its popular leader, María Corina Machado, was barred by Mr. Maduro’s government from running.

In a joint interview, Mr. González said he was “taken by surprise” when Mr. Maduro allowed him to register as a candidate, and still had no clear explanation why.

While Mr. González, 74, was unknown to most Venezuelans until recently, Ms. Machado’s support of his candidacy makes him a viable challenger. Ms. Machado, 56, an enormously popular former legislator, has been rallying voters on his behalf at events across the country, where she is received like a rock star, filling city blocks with people making emotional pleas for her to save the country.

There are other candidates on the ballot, but they are not seen as serious contenders.

Top of mind for most Venezuelans is simply having a legitimate chance to vote the current Chavista government out of power.

Polls show roughly two thirds of the country oppose Chavismo and are likely to support any candidate that could challenge Mr. Maduro, who they blame for the country’s economic collapse.

The Venezuelan economy went into free fall about a decade ago amid mismanagement of the oil sector, a crisis exacerbated by strict sanctions imposed by the United States in 2019. Soaring inflation has eroded salaries and savings.

For years, Venezuelans have been scraping by, trying to feed their children on meager earnings, watching family members die of preventable diseases and waiting for hours in line for gasoline.

The country has seen crowds of adults combing through dumpsters looking for discarded food, long lines for basic provisions, soldiers posted outside bakeries and angry crowds ransacking grocery stores. Emergency rooms have been overwhelmed by children with severe malnutrition and babies suffering from dehydration because of infant formula shortages.

The Maduro government and its base, roughly one third of the country, according to surveys, blames the country’s woes on foreign adversaries, particularly the United States, which they say is waging an economic war against Venezuela.

The reunification of families separated by migration has also emerged as a major issue given the enormous numbers of Venezuelans who have left.

The country’s electoral authority has not announced the details for this year’s vote, but polls in Venezuela typically open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m., and results are known by around 2 a.m. the following day.

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