Moves by Venezuelan authorities to bring presidential elections expected to take place in the final quarter of 2018 forward have been met with rejections from the so-called Lima Group and added to the existing tensions in the dialogue between the opposition and government.
The National Constituent Assembly yesterday voted to approve a motion that ordered the National Electoral Council to set a date before April 30 for presidential elections. The motion was introduced by Diosdado Cabello and approved with cheers in a chamber that does not have opposition representation.
The opposition does not recognize the legitimacy of the National Constituent Assembly and insists on the National Assembly as the democratically-elected legislative branch of the state. Earlier this week Rafael Ramírez, formerly head of the PDVSA oil firm, and now an internal critic of Maduro, challenged the president to primaries. Ramírez is currently in exile.
Shortly after, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that if he had the support of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) he was prepared to run for re-election. Maduro was narrowly elected president in 2013, defeating Henrique Capriles who has now been banned from holding public office after being convicted of “administrative irregularities”. Capriles was among those pushing for an recall referendum against Maduro that was not green-lighted by electoral authorities.
Today Luis Florido, a representative of the opposition at the political dialogue, wrote on Twitter “after the early call for elections and Mexico’s exit from the negotiation, the negotiations are on their deathbed. The way to restart them is for the regime to accept the consensus document set out by the foreign ministers on December 1 and 2 that calls for free and fair elections and a humanitarian channel.”
Mexico withdrew its support from the negotiations yesterday, and Chile has predicated its continues support on the upcoming presidential elections being free and fair. Both Chile and Mexico are members of the Lima Group, which yesterday issued a declaration in which rejected the call for elections and argued that “this decision makes it impossible for democratic, transparent and credible presidential elections, in keeping with international standards, to be held and contradicts the democratic principles and good faith of the dialogue between the government and opposition.” For the Lima Group, any election that does not meet international standards and the participation of every political actor would lack “legitimacy and credibility.”
The declaration was signed by foreign ministers and representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia. The United States today indicated that it supported the Lima Group statement, calling the proposed elections “neither free nor fair. It would only deepen, not help resolve, national tensions.”
The Venezuelan opposition, which has been divided in recent years, in turn is now in the process of finding the a method to settle who will run for the presidency. While some have questioned the legitimacy of the elections, others have called for unity above all else.