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article imageVenezuelan opposition says won't contest April 22 polls without guarantees

By Maria Isabel SANCHEZ (AFP)     Feb 21, 2018 in World

Venezuela's opposition announced Wednesday it would not participate in April 22 presidential elections without guarantees that it would be free and fair.

It said doing so would lend "an appearance of legitimacy" to fraudulent polls designed to hand a second six-year term to unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.

"Do not count on the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), or the people, to endorse what until now is only a fraudulent and illegitimate simulation of the presidential election," opposition coordinator Angel Oropeza told a press conference called to announce the result of weeks of opposition deliberations.

Maduro retorted that the elections would go ahead in April "with or without" the opposition coalition, and said he was also seeking to bring forward legislative elections by nearly two years to coincide with the presidential poll.

"We are going to the elections come rain, shine or lightning, with or without the MUD," said Maduro, adding that he would also propose bringing forward the legislative vote -- normally scheduled for 2020 -- to "renew" the opposition-dominated parliament.

The opposition has accused the leftist president of engineering a second term for himself by bringing forward the presidential election from December.

"This premature and unconditional event...is just a government show to pretend a legitimacy that it does not have, in the midst of the agony and suffering of Venezuelans," Oropeza said.

Without a rival in sight, Maduro seems certain to win re-election despite opinion polls showing a 75 percent unpopularity rating among Venezuelans angered by a worsening political and economic crisis, causing widespread food and medicine shortages.

Leading opponents have been barred from standing in the election.

Ironically, according to Felix Seijas, head of polling firm Delphos, "Maduro is probably at his weakest moment, but he's drawing strength from the weakness, mistakes, and the lack of unity and coherence of the opposition, which is what gives him oxygen."

- Opposition seeking guarantees -

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has vowed presidential polls will go ahead with or without...
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has vowed presidential polls will go ahead with or without the opposition, and said he is also seeking to bring forward legislative elections by two years
Federico PARRA, AFP

Still, the MUD appeared to leave the door ajar in the hope of international pressure for change.

Among the opposition's main demands is that the election takes place in the "second half of 2018," that it be held under the auspices of a "balanced" National Electoral Council, and in the presence of independent international observers to monitor the polls.

"We challenge the Maduro government to be measured against the people in real elections," the MUD statement said.

The four main parties in the MUD -- First Justice, Popular Will, Democratic Action and the New Era party -- have long seemed inclined to boycott the April 22 vote.

"The decision not to participate is based on their calculation that they cannot win the election under the current conditions -- choosing a unified candidate in such a short time frame would be very difficult -- and that they can retain more international support and credibility by not participating," said Risa Grais-Targow of analyst group Eurasia.

Some opposition leaders, such as former parliamentary chairman Henry Ramos Allup, have presidential aspirations, while another, Henri Falcon, also appears willing to register his candidacy. Neither attended the press conference.

"The MUD is virtually liquidated, which means that the opposition stands discredited for not having visualized the situation and proposed a proactive strategy," political scientist Luis Salamanca told AFP.

Seijas agreed. "If the MUD does not have a plan, if in the next two months it fails to articulate the reactivation of civil society, it seems to me that it will disappear," he said.

Maduro's strategy now lies in delivering a "coup de grace" to the opposition by calling for snap parliamentary elections to finish off an unprepared MUD, said Seijas.

The vote for the opposition-dominated parliament is scheduled for late 2020 but Diosdado Cabello, the powerful number two of Maduro's socialist party, said the legislative polls could be held on April 22, the same day as the presidential election.

"This is a decision for the National Constituent Assembly," Cabello told state television VTV on Tuesday.

The opposition wrested control of parliament in December 2015 elections, but has seen its power usurped by the Constituent Assembly, which has assumed full legislative powers in Venezuela since it was created by Maduro last year.

To date, it has rubber-stamped Maduro's decisions.

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