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Venezuela Calls for Early Elections, and Maduro Aims to Retain Control

“If they attack us, it’s because we’re on the right path,” Diosdado Cabello, a Socialist Party leader, told members of the Constituent Assembly. “If the world wants to apply sanctions, we will apply elections.”

The administration’s critics, however, said that once again Mr. Maduro was merely dressing up authoritarianism in the guise of democracy.

“A government that is a product of force or an electoral trap cannot survive at an international level,” Henry Ramos Allup, a prominent opposition leader and member of the National Assembly, said on Twitter.

The timing of the election, which still needs to be specified by the national electoral commission, catches the opposition in a desperately weakened state. After leading street protests that turned violent and demonstrated the level of popular discontent, the opposition quickly lost steam as Mr. Maduro, ignoring threats of international censure, plowed ahead with the vote for the Constituent Assembly last July and neutered the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Mr. Maduro’s party then won regional elections in a landslide last October, taking most of the nation’s governorships, and it further solidified its gains in December by sweeping municipal elections amid a boycott by the fractious alliance of opposition parties protesting what it called a rigged electoral system.

With the presidential election now only weeks away and many of the most popular opposition leaders either imprisoned, barred from running for office or in exile, the opposition will most likely struggle to find a candidate who can present even the slightest challenge to Mr. Maduro.

“All the current oppositional candidates are lightweights with little support and no punch,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a political analyst and electoral expert in Caracas, the capital. “None of them inspires, so that makes it even more difficult for the opposition to win the election.”

Mr. Pantoulas said that officials needed at least three months to organize a “normal electoral process.” The short timetable, he said, is likely to produce “an illegitimate process with high abstention.”

Still, some opposition leaders tried to rise to the challenge on Tuesday, issuing appeals for unity among the opposition parties and calling for citizens to organize and vote.

“The only great truth is that this government and its leadership is hated by the immense majority of Venezuelans!” Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate, said on Twitter. Last year, he was barred from holding public office for 15 years.

“Unity more than ever!” he said. “Unity to recover democracy!

Source: NYT > World

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