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Venezuela’s top court this week suspended the results of the opposition’s recent primary election, a move that will likely hinder the participation of opposition candidates in next year’s presidential vote, the Associated Press reported.

The ruling is centered on the opposition’s primary vote on Oct. 22 which saw more than 2.4 million Venezuelans, including those living abroad, selecting the candidate to run against incumbent Nicolás Maduro.

Last week’s results showed that María Corina Machado, a former lawmaker and fierce government critic, won more than 90 percent of the vote – despite a government ban preventing her from holding office.

But on Monday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice found that the primary vote was likely in violation of the law, ordering the suspension of both the voting process and the result. It also ordered election organizers to hand over all ballots, tally sheets and voting notebooks used to verify the identity of voters.

The verdict came after José Brito, an unknown lawmaker, filed suit, claiming he was unfairly excluded from the primary. Tamara Adrián, a primary candidate, noted that the court should not have accepted the appeal because it did not meet legal requirements.

Still, the ruling marks the latest challenge by Maduro to the opposition ahead of the 2024 presidential elections. Before the primary, Maduro and the opposition had agreed in principle to allow the latter to choose its candidate for next year’s polls.

That agreement was part of a larger deal between Venezuela and the United States to ease sanctions on the South American country’s oil industry.

It was not immediately clear whether the suspension would effectively result in the nullification of the primary vote.

Meanwhile, the court’s decision has sparked concern among Venezuelans about the lack of voter secrecy.

In 2004, a pro-government lawmaker exposed the names of millions of petition signers seeking a recall referendum against then-President Hugo Chávez. The disclosure led to many losing their government jobs and assistance.

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