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article imageTop Venezuela court excludes opposition from presidential vote

By AFP     Jan 26, 2018 in World

Venezuela's top court on Thursday excluded the opposition from an upcoming presidential election, clearing the way for unpopular President Nicolas Maduro to win another term.

The late socialist icon Hugo Chavez's handpicked successor has drawn criticism at home and abroad, accused of running a leftist dictatorial regime in this oil-rich and once prosperous country whose economy is now a basket case marked by acute shortages of food and medicine and even such basics as soap and toilet paper.

The main opposition coalition, called the Democratic Union Roundtable, or MUD in Spanish, declined to field candidates in local elections in December. It said the voting would be rigged, just as it said gubernatorial elections in October were. In both cases, pro-government candidates scored big wins.

So the parties that make up the coalition had to re-register with electoral authorities. And that was supposed to happen this weekend.

But on Thursday the Supreme Court -- accused of being stacked with Maduro loyalists -- told the national election council to delay this registration by six months. The presidential election, originally scheduled for December, has been moved up to April 30 at the latest. No final date has been set.

Thus the opposition is now left out in the cold. The court did not state the grounds for its order.

The election date change was ordered by the so-called and all powerful Constituent Assembly, a quasi-legislature comprising Maduro loyalists that the president had elected last August to replace the National Assembly, which was controlled by the opposition.

"The Supreme Court is annulling MUD, the most highly voted ticket in history," said election expert Eugenio Martinez. He was referring the coalition's sweeping victory in legislative elections in 2015.

Venezuela, hard hit by sharply lower oil prices on the global market, is enduring one of the worst crises in its history. Inflation for this year is forecast to hit 13,000 percent.

From April to July last year angry Venezuelans took to the streets in protest, with 125 people killed as the demonstrations degenerated into clashes with security forces.

The opposition coalition is riven by division and has no clear leader. So many had warned the government might move the elections up to take advantage of that weakness.

Maduro started campaigning Wednesday at a raucous event with workers.

"We are going to win the presidential election in a landslide," he said.

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