President Nicolas Maduro is doubling-down on plans to concentrate power by calling Wednesday for early congressional elections to coincide with a presidential vote in April that opponents hours earlier said they would boycott unless steps are taken to ease fears it’s rigged. Pushing ahead a vote for the democratically elected National Assembly could spell a shake-up in the last branch of government still out of Maduro’s control. The opposition’s move edging to an outright boycott means Maduro is unlikely to face any major challenge in the April 22 race despite widespread anger over his handling of an economy marred by soaring inflation and shortages of food and life-saving medicine.
The opposition’s announcement came after several days of closed-door talks on whether to field a candidate or not. While hardliners were pushing for a boycott, some moderates left open a slim possibility of participating.
“The MUD says they’re not going to the elections. So what are they preparing?” Maduro told supporters, referring to the coalition by its Spanish initials. “A coup?”
Reflecting those divisions, the opposition in a carefully worded statement said while it couldn’t partake in a fraudulent election, it was challenging the government one last time to reverse course before a deadline in the coming days to register candidates.