Venezuela’s move to bar two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles from public office for 15 years looked like an unusually brazen blow at the opposition but is just the logical extension of a strategy that has emerged as the last, best hope of President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialists for maintaining power. A nearly identical maneuver was used ten years ago to halt the rise of former mayor Leopoldo Lopez, who in polls remains one of the most influential opposition leaders despite being jailed three years ago for his role in anti-government protests. The situation suggests the Socialists may continue to lean on Comptroller Manuel Galindo, accused by the opposition of being a government puppet, to clear the playing field of potential challengers. The election, still unscheduled, must be held by the end of 2018.
Maduro is struggling under low approval ratings and Soviet-style product shortages, but so far the opposition has failed to find a way around the Socialists’ domination of the top court and other state institutions that have found one excuse after another to sideline them.
Capriles, responding to the ban in the company of other opposition leaders, signaled as much. “My dear friends – Henry, Freddy, all of you who are here – today it’s me, but tomorrow they’ll come for you,” he said, in reference to high-profile legislator Henry Ramos and deputy congress chief Freddy Guevara.
Other Maduro challengers include Julio Borges, a lawyer and long-time politician who is currently the head of congress, and Henry Falcon, the governor of the central state of Lara who defected from the Socialist Party.