Venezuelan opposition coalition able to register provisional candidate after electoral outcry

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds up a book featuring his photo with the Spanish title: 2025 - 2031. Plan of the Homeland. Big Transformations" as he speaks at the National Election Commission (CNE) where he arrived to formalize his candidacy to run again for president in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2024. Elections are set for July 28. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds up a book featuring his photo with the Spanish title: 2025 – 2031. Plan of the Homeland. Big Transformations” as he speaks at the National Election Commission (CNE) where he arrived to formalize his candidacy to run again for president in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2024. Elections are set for July 28. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s main opposition coalition said Tuesday afternoon that the country’s government allowed them to register a provisional candidate for the upcoming presidential election, amid a wave of criticisms after opposition leaders said they were blocked from registering their candidate of choice the night before.

The coalition, the Unitary Democratic Platform, said they temporarily enlisted former diplomat Edmundo González Urrutia as their candidate as a way to “preserve the exercise of the political rights that correspond to our political organization” until they are able to register another candidate. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the coalition said it was not allowed to access the registration system, but was later granted an extension.

It is the latest in a chaotic electoral process surrounding Venezuela’s July 28 election as the government of President Nicolás Maduro has cracked down on the opposition despite promises to pave the way to democratic elections in exchange for sanctions relief.

Early Tuesday morning, Omar Barboza, a representative of the United States-backed coalition, raised alarm when he said that they were not allowed to register their little-known candidate Corina Yoris by the Monday deadline to be eligible. In a video posted on X, Barboza called it “a violation of the right of the majority of Venezuelans who want to vote for change,” and demanded that the registry be reopened.

It was unclear why Venezuelan authorities allowed González Urrutia to be registered as a candidate and not Yoris.

Opposition parties on Friday had named Yoris, an 80-year-old unknown newcomer and former academic, as the substitute candidate for opposition leader María Corina Machado, who won last year’s opposition-organized primary but faces a government ban on holding public office. The government last week arrested a handful of people on Machado’s campaign, including her campaign manager, accusing them of being part of a violent plot.

Their inability to register was met with a deluge of criticisms from leaders across the region, with the U.S. State Department saying in a statement it was watching the situation closely and was “deeply concerned by the National Electoral Council’s decision to prevent the registration of the democratic opposition parties’ candidate, Dr. Corina Yoris.”

“It is critical that the Maduro Regime recognize and respect the right of all candidates to run. We urge Maduro to do so,” the statement read. “We are working with other members of the international community to ensure that Venezuelans can participate in inclusive and competitive elections.”

Governments from neighboring Colombia and Brazil also expressed concern, while Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo accused Maduro’s government of “consolidating an anti-democratic system.”

Venezuela pushed back against the criticism, which Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil said on X represented a “gross interference in matters that only concern Venezuelans.”

Maduro has so far managed to block his chief opponents from running while alternately negotiating and then reneging on minimal electoral guarantees promised to the opposition and to the U.S. government in exchange for relief from sanctions on the Venezuelan energy industry.

A number of regional leaders accused the Maduro government of breaching such agreements with the opposition.

The self-proclaimed socialist leader on Monday officially launched his candidacy for a third term that would last until 2031. He did not mention Yoris by name, but blasted his would-be rival as a “puppet” of traditional elites.

Polls show that the unpopular Maduro would likely be trounced if Venezuelan voters could choose a viable alternative.

To date, 10 candidates have registered to compete in the July elections, but none of them are connected to the main opposition coalition and several are seen as representing little threat to Maduro’s power base. Once parties register their candidate, they have until April 16 to name a substitute.

Yoris told reporters at a news conference late Monday that all her attempts to register her candidacy, both electronically and in person, had failed.

“We’ve exhausted all of the possibilities,” Yoris said. “It’s not just the name of Corina Yoris that is being denied but the name of any citizen that wants to run.”

Brazil issued a statement saying the move to block candidates was a violation of previous agreements with the Venezuelan opposition, although it added that it was opposed to sanctions on the Andean nation, which it said “only contribute to isolating Venezuela and increasing the suffering of its people.”

Longstanding American sanctions on Venezuela have been sharply criticized as not putting pressure on top level government officials, but rather worsening the plight of ordinary Venezuelans and exacerbating the migration of millions of them from their country.

The State Department on Tuesday said it was “committed to maintaining sanctions relief if Maduro upholds” its end of the bargain and allows all candidates to run.

The United Nations issued a statement that did not mention concerns about candidate registration but that underscored the importance of “an environment in Venezuela that is conducive to free and fair elections.”

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Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations. Janetsky contributed from Mexico City.

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