Maria Corina Machado
For the first time in more than a decade, Venezuela will be holding competitive elections. Nevertheless, hesitation on a possible transition of power remain. AFP

For the first time in more than a decade, Venezuelans will head to the polls this July with an opposition candidate who is fighting to get Maduro off Miraflores Palace. But while the opposition might win the popular vote (with polls showing this scenario as the most likely one) a transition of power is far from guaranteed, according to experts.

For several months, the Venezuelan regime— with pressures from international governments and institutions— has been touting the idea of holding free elections in the country. Following the banning of Maria Corina Machado— the public's favored candidate— to run for office, a little known opposition candidate, Edmundo Gonzalez, is set to run against the incumbent.

Gonzalez is a former Venezuelan diplomat who is leading in several polls ahead of the country's July elections. His supporters hope he can help the country move on from the 25 years of Chavismo, a socialist movement that began with Hugo Chavez in 1998 and has since grown more authoritarian.

Three polls conducted in the country showed that a majority of respondents planned to vote for Gonzalez, according to The New York Times.

"He is going to win, I am convinced of it," said Elena Rodriguez, a retired nurse in the state of Sucre. She said that 11 family members had left the country to flee poverty.

Despite public support and the backing of other major politicians in the country, however, many Venezuelans have few hopes that these elections will be democratic or fair, or even less that Maduro will easily give up power, according to The New York Times.

The last competitive presidential election was held in 2013, when Maduro beat Henrique Capriles, a longtime opposition figure. In the next election, in 2018, the government barred the most popular opposition figures from running, leading other nations, like the U.S, and organizations, like the European Union, to not recognize those results.

Now, as pressures from the U.S. and abroad continue, Maduro has shown little interest in leaving his position, The Times reports. In February, he promised a large crowd of followers that he would win the election "by hook or by crook."

This year's election is presumed to be a decisive one. It will include overseeing the fate of the country's vast oil reserves, resetting— or not— relations with the U.S., deciding whether Iran, China and Russia can continue to depend on Venezuela as a key ally in the Western Hemisphere, and confronting an internal humanitarian crisis that has propelled mass migration of Venezuelans across the globe, particularly to the U.S.

Ultimately, if Chavez's successor does give up power, it will almost surely be as a result of negotiations with the opposition.

In fact, Machado herself has argued repeatedly that her main goal is to make Maduro see that staying in power is unsustainable— that his government is running out of money, that too many Venezuelans want him out and that Chavismo is crumbling from inside, The Times reports.

"The best option is a negotiated exit," she said in an interview, "and the later it comes, the worse it will be."

Currently, there are no indications of talks about Maduro's departure from office, according to an American official who talked to The Times. Nevertheless, Maduro's government was still talking to U.S. officials and the opposition, a sign that he continues to seek international legitimacy and sanctions relief.

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