Venezuela's opposition in poll pull-out as US slams Maduro


Caracas (AFP)

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro faced US accusations Monday of attempting to rig upcoming polls after naming a new regime-friendly election authority that prompted the opposition to withdraw from elections.

The country's main opposition parties pulled out of legislative elections in a statement late Sunday, two days after Maduro's government-controlled Supreme Court named a new electoral body to oversee the polls.

US State Department chief Mike Pompeo denounced the move as "the latest step to rig the next Venezuelan election."

"The regime has selected a National Electoral Council that will rubber-stamp its decision and ignore the conditions required for free elections," Pompeo said in a statement.

Eleven opposition parties, including the four largest, announced their withdrawal from the polls in a statement late Sunday.

"The Venezuelan democratic parties will neither validate nor recognize any electoral farce staged by the dictatorship for its own interests," it said.

The parties denounced "the dictatorial pretension" of the elections intended to renew the National Assembly, a process which they say will serve "to aggravate the current political crisis."

The opposition has long accused the Supreme Court, which appointed the electoral council, of being biased in favor of Maduro.

The CNE will be responsible for overseeing the poll for which a date has yet to be set, but which by law must be held this year.

"We must fight, united, with more force than ever," said opposition leader and Maduro rival Juan Guaido.

The National Assembly speaker is recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries, including the United States, who refuse to recognize Maduro on the grounds that his 2018 re-election was rigged.

The opposition won the last National Assembly elections in December 2015, winning 112 of the 167 seats.

It is the only state institution in opposition hands but its power is largely symbolic, having been usurped by the all-powerful Constituent Assembly, which was created by Maduro and is stacked with his supporters.