Fri | Jan 18, 2019

Venezuela opposition rejoins talks as presidency vote looms

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM


Negotiators for Venezuela's opposition say that they will return to the negotiating table next week as international pressure mounts on President Nicolas Maduro's government over its decision to push up presidential elections.

The main opposition alliance announced yesterday that it would rejoin talks even as it harshly criticised the government for torpedoing prospects for a breakthrough by unilaterally setting a deadline for elections and banning it from the ballot.

The decision ends days of speculation that the Democratic Unity alliance could abandon the negotiations after one of its biggest parties announced that it was boycotting the talks, which have been taking place in the Dominican Republic.

"We are obligated to keep fighting in all arenas for electoral guarantees," Democratic Unity said in a statement.

In agreeing to return to the negotiating table tomorrow, the opposition alliance said that it would renew its push for guarantees that voting will be free and fair.

Those include allowing foreign election monitors, lifting an electoral ban on several opposition leaders, and guaranteeing that millions of Venezuelan exiles won't be disenfranchised.

The pro-government national Constituent Assembly surprised Venezuelans this week by calling for an election to be held by the end of April.

While no date was set, Maduro immediately announced that he wants to run as the ruling socialist party candidate, pressing for the vote to happen at the earliest possible opportunity.

Typically, elections are held towards the end of the year to avoid a long transition when the new six-year presidential term begins in January 2019.

Foreign governments were quick to condemn the move, saying that it undercuts the negotiations that have been taking place on and off since December.

Further stoking concerns that the vote will be rigged even before Venezuelans head to the polls, the government-stacked Supreme Court last Thursday night barred the coalition from being on the ticket, meaning that whichever candidate runs against Maduro will have to do so under a less recognised party banner.

Although polls say that Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame Maduro for widespread food shortages and quadruple-digit inflation, Maduro heads into the race the clear favourite against an opposition divided and rudderless, following the collapse of a deadly protest movement last year seeking the president's removal.