Venezuela’s President Maduro to seek re-election, as allies seek early polls

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 10:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 11:11pm

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday he is ready to seek re-election after his allies pushed forward voting in a move widely seen as a bid to capitalise on disarray in the opposition and consolidate power amid a free-falling economy.

Maduro’s comment came soon after the pro-government constitutional assembly ordered the presidential election be held by the end of April – months ahead of when the country’s presidential voting has traditionally taken place.

He said the ruling socialist party would settle on a single consensus candidate at a convention February 4. If selected, he said, he would relish the opportunity to measure up against his opponents. He called on the National Electoral Council to set as near a date as possible for the presidential election.

“They should find the closest date, to get this out of the way so we can begin to make a great revolution,” a jubilant Maduro told hundreds of redshirted supporters at a rally to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of Venezuela’s last military dictatorship. “If it was in my hands, the election would be this weekend.”

While Venezuelans had been expecting an early election, the announcement came as somewhat of a surprise because talks between the opposition and government have been taking place in the Dominican Republic for weeks – so far without a breakthrough. The opposition has been using those talks to push for guarantees that voting will be free and fair, with the participation of independent foreign monitors.

Foreign ministers from 14 mostly conservative Latin American governments meeting in Chile to discuss Venezuela criticised the announcement of an early election, saying in a harshly worded statement that it was “impossible” for the ballot’s outcome to be credible under current conditions. Mexico, one of several foreign governments mediating the talks in the Dominican Republic, said it was withdrawing its support for the talks to protest the Maduro government’s move.

When asked about Maduro running for another six-year term, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Maduro seemed unfazed by the threat of more international rebuke. He settled on a frequent refrain to accuse his opponents of taking orders from the Trump administration, which has slapped financial and travel restrictions on dozens of top Venezuelan officials in recent months, including Maduro himself.

“Don’t go running,” Maduro taunted his opponents during the rally. “Don’t abandon Venezuela’s democracy.”

Maduro was accompanied at the rally by Diosdado Cabello, the No 2 leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. It was Cabello, seen as Maduro’s biggest internal rival, who earlier Tuesday proposed holding the election by the end of April, saying it was the best way to counter criticism by the US and others that Venezuela is descending into dictatorship.

“If the world applies sanctions, we’ll apply elections,” said Cabello, referring to Monday’s decision by the European Union to impose financial and travel restrictions on him and six other top officials. “Nobody is going to come and give us lessons or tell us what to do. … The Venezuelan people have the right to choose their own destiny.”

While Cabello didn’t explicitly endorse Maduro, he praised him as the hand-picked successor of the late President Hugo Chavez and said the revolution would easily settle on a single candidate.

“We’re not going to have any problem,” Cabello said to thunderous applause during Tuesday’s raucous session of the constitutional assembly.