Venezuela sets date for elections after mounting pressure
Venezuela will hold legislative elections on December 6, election officials announced Monday, following months of mounting pressure from local opposition groups and international observers.
The South American country's laws mandate that National Assembly balloting be held this year, but elections officials had delayed setting a date, raising concerns that the contest would be cancelled.
In her announcement, elections council head Tibisay Lucena said the organisation had always intended to set a date, and was not reacting to public pressure.
"These attacks and phony analyses from national experts and international figures have mostly been very ignorant," she said.
The ruling socialist party currently holds a majority in the legislature, but polls indicate that if the election were held today, the opposition coalition would win in a landslide. The 29-party coalition is benefiting from widespread discontent with President Nicolas Maduro, driven by mounting shortages, the world's highest inflation and rampant crime.
Opposition parties have not captured a legislative majority since Maduro's mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, won the presidency 16 years ago. They have lost every recent national election, and currently hold about a third of the South American country's legislature.
The coalition held legislative primaries in May, drawing a seven per cent turnout, and the socialist party will hold primaries on Sunday.
Jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been on a hunger strike since May to demand that the government set a date for the elections and allow international observers to supervise the contest. Lopez has been imprisoned for more than a year on charges related to his alleged involvement with sometimes bloody anti-government street protests in 2014.
He had also demanded the release of imprisoned politicians like himself. It was not immediately known if Lopez would end his hunger strike now that an elections date is set.
Lucena said South America's UNASUR group of nations, generally seen as friendly to the administration, would be allowed to observe the elections.
Some candidates who will be on the ballot are still jailed on charges related to last year's protests, including Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of the restive city of San Cristobal. In a quirk of Venezuelan law, a win in the general election could spring these candidates from jail because legislators receive immunity from prosecution during their terms.
Maduro's presidential term doesn't end until 2019.
"Now we have the date of the battle for a new people's victory," he said from his Twitter account on Monday. "On December 6 we have a date with history."