Venezuela’s unpopular President Nicolas Maduro today urged officials to set a presidential election date in 48 hours’ time for a vote that he’d like to see take place within another week. “I am urging the Constituent Assembly (a super-legislature stacked with Maduro loyalists) and the Elections Board to set a date hopefully Monday for the elections,” he told supporters after the small Marxist-Leninist Tupamaro Party endorsed him for re-election in the crisis-hit South American country.
The snap poll is to happen sometime before the end of April, after the Constituent Assembly announced last week the vote was being brought forward from December. The Supreme Court, which critics say systematically bows to Maduro, has barred the opposition coalition from fielding a candidate under its banner, and banned several prominent opposition figures from participating.
The opposition says the moves are designed to engineer a second term for Maduro. The ruling Socialist Party, which Maduro leads and was holding a congress, on Friday officially voted to make the president its candidate for the election. The poll date has been a controversial issue in the dialogue between government and opposition forces being held in the Dominican Republic since December 1. They may continue to meet tomorrow, the host, Dominican President Danilo Medina, has said.
The election will be held against a backdrop of financial and political crisis. The country, impoverished despite being a major oil producer, is suffering food and medicine shortages brought on by a recent period of low oil prices, declining production, and economic mismanagement. It is in the grips of hyperinflation and teetering on the brink of outright default.
Venezuela is also increasingly isolated internationally. The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Maduro and his officials, with Washington calling him a “dictator.” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a tour of South America, during which he is raising Venezuela’s crisis with governments in the region. Maduro and his government defend themselves by saying the economic crisis is the work of enemy nations — invariably the United States, sometimes Colombia — in cahoots with rightwing businessmen seeking to bring him down.