Venezuela sets its presidential elections for July 28 while the opposition candidate remains excluded

Caracas Venezuela –

Venezuela’s much-anticipated presidential election will be held on July 28, the birthday of the country’s late leader Hugo Chavez, officials announced Tuesday, moving ahead with a tight campaign season that deepens doubts about the participation of Venezuela’s leading candidate. the opposition, as well as international observers. .

President Nicolás Maduro is widely expected to run for re-election. His administration initially negotiated details of the election with an opposition faction backed by the U.S. government, but differences between the sides have grown in the past two months.

However, the date announced by the president of the National Electoral Council, Elvis Amoroso, met at least one opposition demand that the elections be held in the second half of the year.

When Maduro and his adversaries agreed to that broad timeline in October, the intervening months were intended to allow campaigns to mobilize, officials to update voter lists, and international election observers to plan and deploy a mission.

Crucially, the October agreement, signed on the Caribbean island of Barbados and focused on conditions aimed at leveling the playing field for the 2024 elections, also called on both sides to “promote the authorization of all presidential candidates and political parties.” to participate in the elections. election as long as they comply with the law.

But in January, the country’s highest court upheld an administrative decision that barred Maduro’s strongest opponent this year, María Corina Machado, from running for office.

Amoroso, in his previous position as the country’s comptroller, signed the announcement banning Machado from office last summer. He did not address his candidacy during his nationally televised announcement Tuesday, just four days after lawmakers proposed to the National Electoral Council, loyal to the ruling party, more than 20 possible options, ranging from mid-April to December.

Last month, the opposition’s chief negotiator, Gerardo Blyde, said the group was in favor of a vote in December.

David Smilde, an expert on Venezuelan politics at Tulane University, said the Maduro government is seeking to thread the needle with the July 28 date, complying enough with the Barbados agreement to keep it alive while putting pressure on the opposition. to try to divide it.” or abstain.”

“An ideal outcome for Chavismo would be for the opposition to split or abstain, allowing Maduro to win on a relatively clean election day,” he said, referring to the political movement started by Chavez, Maduro’s mentor and predecessor. “And with less than five months, this also puts international observation in trouble.”

International election observers typically need several months to prepare for an election.

Amoroso said that campaigning will be allowed from July 4 to 25.

The Unitary Platform and the Maduro government agreed in October during talks in Barbados that elections should be held in the second half of the year, without specifying which month. The agreement earned Maduro relief from some economic sanctions imposed by the US.

Machado has insisted throughout his campaign that voters, not those loyal to the ruling party, are the ones who make legitimate decisions about his candidacy. On Tuesday he asked his supporters gathered at a rally in western Venezuela for “calm and firmness” in the coming days, but offered no explanation as to how he intends to overcome the ban against him.

Machado won an independent primary held last year by the Unitary Platform, the U.S.-backed opposition faction. He won more than 90 percent of the vote, and more than two million voters turned out for the primaries, including in the strongholds of Maduro’s ruling party.

Tuesday marked 11 years since Chávez’s death. Smylde said the ruling party will use his birthday to mobilize voters.

While the opposition candidate remains in doubt, Maduro will seek six more years in office. The entire decade of his presidency has been marked by a political, social and economic crisis. Under his leadership, millions of Venezuelans have fallen into poverty and more than 7.4 million have migrated.

Benigno Alarcón, professor of political science at the Andrés Bello Catholic University of Caracas, said that the busy agenda “promises to be full of big questions,” but the ruling party is betting that the criticism will eventually subside and not bring major consequences as in the last elections. . cycle, which led to crippling economic sanctions and the recognition of an opposition leader as the country’s legitimate leader.

“Evidently, the government’s main concern is to get the opposition candidate who was elected in the primaries, María Corina Machado, out of the way and reduce the time to continue the debate on her qualification or anything else,” he stated. Basically what is behind this decision.”

García Cano reported from Mexico City.

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