CARACAS (Reuters) - The vice president of Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party on Tuesday proposed holding an early congressional election alongside the April 22 presidential vote, a move that could shorten the tenure of the currently opposition-run legislature.
Venezuela’s opposition won control of the National Assembly in a 2015 landslide vote that was their biggest electoral victory in nearly two decades of socialist government.
But President Nicolas Maduro and the pro-government judiciary rendered the congress toothless by striking down all its measures. Authorities held a controversial vote to set up instead a new all-powerful superbody Constituent Assembly, which a raft of foreign nations have refused to recognize.
Socialist Party No. 2 Diosdado Cabello, a hardline stalwart of Maduro’s government, told state TV that a new National Assembly vote was needed “in the national interest” because the opposition-run body was idle.
“Our country needs to take decisions. If it wasn’t for the Constituent Assembly, the country would be paralyzed,” Cabello said. In the past, his proposals have quickly gone to the entirely pro-government Constituent Assembly for rubber-stamping.
Critics blasted Cabello’s proposal to bring forward the next congressional vote, which had been due in 2020. They viewed it as a further attempt to crush opposition in a nation they say the socialists have turned into a dictatorship.
Henri Falcon, a former socialist supporter who crossed to the opposition and is mulling running in the April 22 election, chided Cabello for his comments.
“This hardly contributes to the climate of calm and security the nation is demanding faced with an upcoming election,” Falcon told reporters, adding that both the pro-government national election board and the Constituent Assembly lacked legitimacy in the eyes of most Venezuelans and the world.
The opposition coalition is expected to boycott the April presidential poll, because they believe it is rigged to ensure Maduro’s re-election despite his unpopularity and a crushing national economic crisis.
The opposition’s most popular leaders are banned from standing: Leopoldo Lopez is under house arrest while Henrique Capriles is prohibited from holding office for alleged “administrative irregularities” when a state governor.
Capriles’ Justice First party became the second major opposition party to announce formally it would boycott the presidential vote given the lack of fair conditions.
“We have decided not to participate in a fraudulent process ... the electoral farce,” it said in a communique on Tuesday. “Noone will shift us from the democratic track but we’re not going to play the game of a dictatorship clinging to power to the detriment of Venezuela’s suffering people.”
Maduro, a former bus driver and foreign minister, was narrowly elected president in 2013 to replace the late Hugo Chavez. He says he is fighting a U.S.-led international right-wing conspiracy to topple socialism and win control of Venezuela’s oil wealth.
He accuses Justice First and other opposition groups of being fronts for violent coup-plotters.
Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Andrew Cawthorne; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Girish Gupta, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio