Venezuela will hold elections in December to renew the National Assembly, the only institution where the opposition has a majority, the country’s electoral authority has announced.
Candidates will contest an expanded number of seats in the new legislature, which will increase from 167 to 277, Indira Alfonzo, who was named chief of the National Electoral Council (CNE) by the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court earlier this month, said on Tuesday.
“We unanimously debated and built the special rules that will govern this December’s parliamentary elections,” Alfonzo said, announcing the increase in seats.
President Nicolas Maduro welcomed the electoral authority’s announcement, adding that his Socialist Party is already “working” with allied organisations to nominate candidates.
“We will prepare for the birth of a new National Assembly,” he said, speaking on the official television station VTV.
Translation: “I salute and applaud the announcements made by the Electoral Power today. The number of parliamentarians to be elected was expanded to 277 and the 87 electoral circuits are maintained. Good news! Let’s go towards constitutional and mandatory parliamentary elections!”
The opposition led by Juan Guaido, who is recognised as interim president by some 60 countries, accused the government of wanting to hold elections without meeting “the minimum conditions of transparency.”
“It is by fighting that we will achieve conditions that allow us to rescue the right to vote and make it an instrument of change,” Guaido wrote on Twitter. “The dictatorship will not give anything away; we must fight together to conquer our democracy.”
The opposition has cited the Supreme Court’s naming of Alfonzo and four other new CNE members as evidence the elections will not be fair.
The opposition has also slammed a court ruling that removed leaders of two key opposition parties and replaced them with politicians accused of being shadow allies of the ruling Socialist Party.
The main opposition parties have already announced a boycott of the polls.
Maduro has been accused by the United States of attempting to rig the election by naming a government-friendly electoral authority.
The US is one of the dozens of countries formally backing National Assembly speaker Guaido that refuse to recognise Maduro over allegations that his 2018 re-election was rigged.
With the opposition marginalised, the government has a free hand to regain control of the legislature, which it lost in December 2015 when the opposition routed Maduro’s Socialist Party, winning 112 of the 167 seats.
The National Assembly’s power is largely symbolic, having been usurped by the all-powerful Constituent Assembly, a separate body created by the government.
Currently, the South American nation is struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and an economic meltdown that has seen about 5 million Venezuelans flee since 2015.
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