CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition coalition said on Wednesday it could not participate in a “fraudulent, illegitimate” presidential election on April 22 due to unfair conditions created by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
The announcement by the Democratic Unity movement, which confirmed a Reuters story on Monday, leaves Maduro on track for re-election but is likely to fuel international condemnation of democratic shortcomings in the socialist-ruled OPEC nation.
Maduro’s two strongest opposition rivals are both barred from running against him: Leopoldo Lopez is under house arrest, while Henrique Capriles is prohibited from holding office due to accusations of misconduct when he was a state governor.
Furthermore, the pro-government national election board already banned the Democratic Unity coalition, plus some of its main parties, from running under their party names.
“The premature event announced for next April 22 lacking proper conditions is a show by the government to give an impression of legitimacy that it does not have in the midst of Venezuelans’ agony and suffering,” the coalition said in a statement, referring to the country’s economic crisis.
“In the name of the immense majority of Venezuelans, we challenge the Maduro government to measure itself against the people in real elections” later in 2018, it added.
The Democratic Unity’s decision leaves Maduro facing just one confirmed candidate so far: a little-known evangelical pastor named Javier Bertucci.
Another likely candidate is opposition leader Henri Falcon, a former state governor who parted with the socialists in 2010. He has expressed his desire to run against Maduro and may break with the coalition decision to boycott the vote.
Falcon’s candidacy will likely infuriate Maduro’s adversaries, many of whom see him as a Trojan horse seeking to help Maduro legitimize a rigged vote.
Maduro has faced calls in Latin America and internationally to improve conditions for the vote, with the United States pondering oil sanctions to pressure him.
He says the country is victim of an “economic war” led by the opposition with the help of the United States.
“We’ll get to the elections whether there’s rain, thunder, or lightning - with or without the (Democratic Unity Coalition),” Maduro told a news conference in response to the opposition’s announcement.
He added that he supports a proposal to hold an early congressional vote on April 22, adding that elections should be held the same day for state and local legislatures.
Reporting by Corina Pons, Deisy Buitrago, and Andrew CawthorneEditing by Cynthia Osterman and Matthew Lewis