CARACAS: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday rejected early elections as a way out of a spiraling crisis that has led to widespread shortages, soaring inflation and mass protests.
“An electoral way out? Way out to where?” he said on his weekly television program. “Nobody should get obsessed with electoral processes that are not in the constitution.”
His comments came a day after his leftist government and the opposition agreed on a “road map” for negotiations to defuse a potentially explosive crisis.
No reference to early elections was made in the joint statement issued at the end of the Vatican-backed talks, but leaders of the main opposition coalition portrayed it as opening the way to elections as a solution to the political impasse.
Carlos Ocariz, a negotiator for the opposition’s Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), said Saturday that the coalition would remain in the dialogue “until it obtains the most important thing: national elections and a recall referendum.”
But Maduro mocked that statement on his television show.
“It makes me very happy that the MUD will continue in the dialogue until December 2018,” he said, referring to the end of his term.
An opposition signature drive for a referendum to recall Maduro was stopped in its tracks earlier this year by a regime-dominated National Electoral Council and Supreme Court, leading to the current impasse.
Only half of the roughly 30 groups that belong to the MUD back the dialogue, seeing it as an attempt to deflect their demands for a leadership change.
“The dialogue between the regime and a sector of the opposition began as a consequence of the theft of the recall referendum, but today we ask ourselves: What happened to the right of Venezuelans to vote that originated the dialogue,” said Voluntad Popular, the party of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
Henrique Capriles, a former presidential candidate whose political movement supports the dialogue, called Sunday on Twitter for the opposition to “immediately retake the agenda of a popular mobilization.”
“The crisis gets worse by the day,” he said.
Hours later, the embattled president extended for another two months the national states of emergency, and economic emergency, which give him special powers “to continue governing and confronting economic warfare and supporting the people,” Maduro said.
Venezuela has suffered a spectacular implosion in the past three years, worsened by plunging oil prices. Riots, looting and violent crime have accompanied the economy’s downward spiral.
Food and medicine shortages have grown so desperate that Human Rights Watch calls the situation a “profound humanitarian crisis.”
Maduro says the economic crisis is a capitalist conspiracy backed by the United States.
The opposition blames 17 years of socialist rule under the mustachioed president and his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez. AFP