An electoral official in Venezuela said Wednesday that criminal investigations against possible challengers to President Hugo Chavez’s re-election bid suggest “a strategy of the government to choose who will be his opponent in the presidential elections.”
Vicente Diaz, the lone director of the National Electoral Council who is sympathetic to the opposition, said a number of the leading candidates to run against Chavez have faced accusations that critics say are baseless and meant instead to dim their political prospects.
Human-rights organizations and opponents of Chavez say his government makes frequent use of the country’s courts to silence political rivals and crack down on free speech. By some estimates, hundreds of potential opposition candidates have been kept from running for office by allegations of wrongdoing.
“It is necessary to alert the country on any attempt to win or to compete in the presidential elections…(with an) advantage by the means of legal actions,” Diaz said Wednesday during an interview on a local radio station. The Chavez government has said repeatedly that it doesn’t allow politically motivated criminal inquiries.
With Chavez in Cuba seeking medical treatment for cancer, it remains to be seen if he will run for office again. Top advisers of the leftist leader have in recent days given assurances that Chavez will take part in the 2012 presidential vote. According to some analysts, however, an extended absence by Chavez strengthens the possibility of an opposition victory.