May 8, 2018 / 7:04 PM / a year ago

Minor Venezuela presidential candidate quits race to back Falcon

Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon of the "Avanzada Progresista" party embraces the independent candidate Luis Alejandro Ratti, who withdrew his candidacy to support Falcon, during a meeting in Caracas, Venezuela May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS (Reuters) - A little-known independent candidate withdrew his bid for Venezuela’s presidency on Tuesday to back Henri Falcon, who is the main challenger to incumbent leader Nicolas Maduro.

With Luis Ratti scoring less than 1 percent in polls, his decision to support Falcon is more of a symbolic boost than likely to make a tangible difference in the socialist-ruled OPEC nation’s May 20 vote.

Campaigning has been lacklustre. Most Venezuelans are preoccupied with finding food amid a desperate economic crisis, and the mainstream opposition is boycotting the vote on grounds it is rigged in advance to assure Maduro’s re-election.

Falcon, a 56-year-old former soldier and state governor, has broken with the main opposition coalition, arguing that abstention is tantamount to voting for Maduro.

“I’m clear who my adversary his: Nicolas Maduro and his model,” Falcon said at a meeting in Caracas to welcome into his camp Ratti, a 39-year-old leftist businessman. “Nicolas Maduro should save Venezuela from more tragedies and resign.”

Despite his personal unpopularity, Maduro, 55, is favourite to win given his powerful party machinery, the vote-winning capacity of state food giveaways, the barring of the opposition’s two most popular figures, and the presence of government loyalists in the election board and judiciary.

“Who elects the president of Venezuela? Donald Trump? Mike Pence?” Maduro asked a crowd in a rally on Tuesday in southern Amazonas state, condemning the U.S. president and vice-president for sanctions on his government.

“No. The sovereign people of Venezuela elect their president in a secret and direct vote,” he added, in what has become a mantra of his campaign stump speech.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Deisy Buitrago and Leon Wietfeld; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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