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Maduro condemned for snap election against jailed opponents

25 January 2018

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday sharply criticized a decision by Venezuela's Constituent Assembly to hold a presidential election by April 30, saying the vote would deepen the country's internal tensions.

Venezuelan government, stuck in an economic crisis, will summon early presidential elections to which Nicholas Maduro, the head of state, will appear in an attempt to use favorable electoral dynamics and disagreements with the opposition.

President Nicolas Maduro told thousands of his supporters at a rally that he is ready to seek another six-year term.

While Venezuelans had been expecting an early election, the announcement came as somewhat of a surprise because talks between the opposition and government have been taking place in the Dominican Republic for weeks - so far without a breakthrough. None are now expected to be granted.

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Previous year alone saw two major fraudulent votes, the first being to elect members of Maduro's "national constituent assembly", an illegal parallel legislature that stripped elected lawmakers of power and replaced them with government supports.

In a statement Wednesday, the U.S. State Department forcefully rejected Venezuela's decision to call presidential elections before April 30, saying that the accelerated timeline means the process will "neither be free nor fair".

Mr Maduro says foreign nations, and especially the United States and Spain, are leading a campaign to bring down the country's socialist government.

Maduro blasted the European Union for imposing "grotesque" sanctions this week on seven senior Venezuelan officials, including a travel ban and an asset freeze, and took aim at Spain's conservative prime minister. "The Venezuelan people have the right to choose their own destiny!" It was Cabello, seen as Maduro's biggest internal rival, who earlier Tuesday proposed holding the election by the end of April, saying it was the best way to counter criticism by the US and others that Venezuela is descending into a dictatorship.

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"No one in Venezuela or overseas should support another of Maduro's farces", said Antonio Ledezma, a hardline opposition leader who recently escaped house arrest to flee to Spain. "We will have no problems, we have only one candidate to continue the revolution", added Cabello, while several hundred members of the assembly chanted "Nicholas, Nicholas!" And a 14-member regional group that includes Canada, Mexico and Peru said an election held under the present conditions would lack legitimacy.

Opposition leaders have since derided the vote and urged potential candidates to boycott the vote. But both are divisive figures within the opposition: Ramos is seen as too old-school by many, while Falcon is viewed with suspicion due to his origins within the ruling "Chavismo" movement.

Although polls say Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame Maduro for widespread food shortages and triple-digit inflation that has pulverized wages, the opposition was left rudderless as several prominent politicians were barred from office or forced into exile past year following a deadly protest movement seeking the president's removal. "If our people are allowed to decide, they are out!" one opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, said.

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Maduro condemned for snap election against jailed opponents