Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Meet the Candidates: Venezuela

Venezuela's elections are in doubt as the country prepares to vote in 2024.
Reading Time: < 1 minute

This article is adapted from AQ’special report on Latin America’s election super-cycle

This page was last updated on January 31

Venezuela’s dictatorship is expected to hold a single-round election for president and vice president in 2024. Most observers do not expect the vote to be free or fair, and the date has not been set. The ruling PSUV party officially named President Nicolás Maduro as its candidate on January 25. The nation’s Supreme Court barred leading opposition figure María Corina Machado from participating as a candidate in a ruling on January 26, but she’s appealing the decision.

AQ asked a dozen nonpartisan experts on Venezuela to help us identify where each candidate stands on two spectrums: left versus right on economic matters, and a more personalistic leadership style versus an emphasis on institutions. We’ve published the average response, with a caveat: Platforms evolve, and so do candidates.

This piece is part of AQ’s ongoing coverage of upcoming elections.

María Corina Machado | Nicolás Maduro

María Corina Machado

56, former lawmaker

Plataforma Unitaria

“The Maduro regime is in its weakest position ever.”

HOW SHE GOT HERE

An industrial engineer turned politician, María Corina Machado overwhelmingly won opposition primaries held in October 2023. She has moderated her positions in recent years after long being seen as an extreme figure even among some in the opposition. In June, the nation’s comptroller barred Machado from holding public office for 15 years in a case universally seen as politically motivated. As of publication, it was unclear whether Machado would be allowed to run.

WHY SHE MIGHT WIN

Machado might win a free and fair election, something almost no one expects this vote to be. Polls suggest most Venezuelans want political change amid unbridled inflation and an exodus of more than 8 million people in recent years. If Machado is somehow allowed to campaign and connect with everyday Venezuelans, the situation could become unpredictable.

WHY SHE MIGHT LOSE

Maduro seems determined to retain power, and his dictatorship is almost certain to prevent Machado from getting anywhere close to victory.

WHO SUPPORTS HER

Machado enjoys support across the political spectrum, including among some in the traditional chavista base. Voters from what remains of Venezuela’s middle class and diaspora are also expected to vote overwhelmingly in her favor.

WHAT SHE WOULD DO

Machado would bring a stabilization program to correct economic distortions and re-anchor government institutions dismantled after more than two decades of corruption and mismanagement. She wants to open the energy sector to private investment, privatize PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, and restructure the nation’s debt into a single bond. She would also launch a vast reindustrialization program and reinsert Venezuela into the international arena.

IDEOLOGY

Nicolás Maduro

61, president

Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV)

“The presidential elections will come, the people will vote, the people will choose and, well… we’ll move on.”

HOW HE GOT HERE

A dictator who assumed power in March 2013, Maduro formally seeks a third term that would extend his rule beyond that of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Maduro won his second term in an undemocratic election in 2018. Maduro’s rule has been marred by human rights abuses, political prosecution, corruption and the erosion of institutions. According to the IMF, Venezuela’s gross domestic product declined by more than 75% between 2013 and 2021, the most for a country not at war in the last 50 years.

WHY HE MIGHT WIN

Virtually no one expects the election to be free or fair. Maduro controls the government apparatus, including critical institutions such as the electoral authority, the Supreme Court, the entire judicial system and the army. As of publication, the government-controlled courts had barred the leading opposition candidate, María Corina Machado, from running.

WHY HE MIGHT LOSE

Polls suggest Maduro is highly unpopular. Some observers draw comparisons to Chile’s 1988 plebiscite, when Augusto Pinochet sought popular validation for his dictatorship but lost control of the process, lost the vote, and ultimately allowed a transition to democracy. However, such a scenario in Venezuela is seen as extremely unlikely.

WHO SUPPORTS HIM

Maduro still retains some support from low-income segments of the population who receive subsidies and benefits from social programs, although their value has eroded due to rampant inflation and economic mismanagement.

WHAT HE WOULD DO

Maduro would likely strengthen relations with Russia, China, Iran, and certain Latin American nations such as Cuba and Colombia, while continuing different iterations of populist policies to stay in power.

IDEOLOGY

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Reading Time: < 1 minuteArrioja is the managing editor of Americas Quarterly and Senior Director of Policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

Follow José Enrique Arrioja:   LinkedIn   |    Facebook   |    X/Twitter

Tags: Elections 2024, Maria Corina Machado, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela
Like what you've read? Subscribe to AQ for more.
Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Sign up for our free newsletter