February 19, 2018 / 6:14 PM / 4 months ago

Venezuela's opposition coalition likely to boycott presidential vote

CARACAS (Reuters) - Leaders of Venezuela’s opposition coalition appeared likely on Monday to decide on a boycott of the April presidential election, believing authorities have rigged it for President Nicolas Maduro and his ruling socialists.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with ministers in Caracas, Venezuela February 16, 2018. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Maduro, the 55-year-old successor of Hugo Chavez, is seeking re-election in the April 22 vote despite his unpopularity and a crushing economic crisis. But critics say the election is a farce, with Maduro’s main rivals barred from standing and a compliant election body bound to favour the socialists.

Leaders of the main parties in the Democratic Unity coalition have for days been considering whether to participate or not in the vote. Some believe a boycott is a self-destructive free pass for Maduro, while others say participation would be doomed to failure and merely legitimate his “dictatorship.”

The coalition was due to meet at 4 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Monday, politicians said. One senior member of the Justice First party told Reuters it would formalise there a decision to boycott the vote in protest at unfair conditions.

“We’re not going to the election,” added another source in the Democratic Action party.

“They’ll explain why at the end of today or tomorrow. It’s a big mistake in my view, but that’s the decision.”

Another major opposition party, Popular Will, led by protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is under house arrest, has already unilaterally announced it will not take part in the election.

The opposition’s two most popular figures - Lopez and former governor Henrique Capriles - are both prohibited from standing. Lopez is detained on charges of stirring violence during anti-Maduro protests in 2014, while Capriles has been accused of “administrative irregularities” while governor of Miranda state.

The national election board, which is widely perceived by Venezuelans as pro-government, has also banned Democratic Unity and several of the major opposition parties from formally participating in the vote.

The board says the parties did not comply with election rules including a signature drive to re-legalize their status.

Government officials say some opposition parties are fronts for violent coup-plotters, and accuse anti-Maduro leaders of being in league with a U.S.-led, right-wing conspiracy to topple socialism in the South American OPEC nation.

Maduro has repeatedly denied any flaws in Venezuela’s election system and reacted angrily to international censure of the calling of a snap election in April.

Some anti-Maduro figures, however, are set to stand, with opposition leader and former Lara state governor Henri Falcon having announced his intention to run, and a little-known evangelical pastor entering the race on Sunday.

Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Liamar Ramos; Editing by Angus Berwick and Paul Simao

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