Venezuela ruling party officially makes Maduro its candidate in the July presidential election

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Saturday became his party’s official nominee for July’s highly anticipated presidential election, which would allow him to stroll into a third consecutive term with no real competition on the horizon.

Not unusual to Venezuela, the election has been plagued with controversy since Maduro’s main opponent, María Corina Machado — who swept an opposition coalition’s primary election with more than 90% of votes — was disqualified by Venezuelan authorities to hold public office for 15 years.

Maduro accepted the nomination as the ruling United Socialist Party’s candidate for the July 28 presidential election during a party gathering in Caracas, saying he has “the support of the people.” According to the party, its decision was backed by over 4 million members who chose their candidate last week.

“A man alone would not be here. I am here for the people,” Maduro said. “Here, the candidate is not Maduro. Here, the candidate is the people.”

Maduro, the hand-picked successor to President Hugo Chávez, rose to power in March 2013 following the death of Chávez, whose homespun charm earned him the affection and votes of millions. Winning another term would leave Maduro at the helm of Venezuela’s government until 2031.

Under his rule, Venezuelan has descended into a deep economic crisis, only deepened by American sanctions. The crisis has pushed millions of people to migrate from the South American nation, with many now headed toward the United States.

The American government rolled back some sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, gas and mining sectors last year after Maduro agreed with the opposition to work toward electoral conditions that would allow for a leveled playing field.

But the Biden administration ended some of the relief after Venezuela’s high court upheld a ban on Machado. It has also threatened to pull back additional relief if the Maduro government continues to defy the agreement.

The deadline for the registration of candidates is March 25, but so far Machado has maintained that she will continue “until the end,” although without making clear how she would circumvent the ban on holding office.

In recent day’s, the opposition coalition has questioned the electoral process and called for “the law to be respected.”

Other opposition figures have also been disqualified, such as Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate, who declined to participate before the primary election.

Capriles is among a growing number of voices of government opponents and foreign leaders to urge Machado to step aside to allow voters to rally behind an alternative. He urged her to “a sense of realism” this week as Machado has pushed forward.

“They believe this is just one more election, one more electoral fight where they can run us over, or cheat, that we’re going to stay quiet and lower our heads. They haven’t understood anything,” Machado has told supporteres at several rallies.