By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Bloody but unbowed, the Venezuelan opposition is gearing up for Presidential elections in the first quarter of 2018, spokesman Juan Carlos Caldera said Wednesday.
“Let them take place no later than the first quarter of 2018,” Caldera, an opposition lawmaker, said during a live televisión interview with pro-government all news TV station Globovision.
On Tuesday, the opposition said it was beginning the process to elect a consensus candidate to beat the governemnt’s, which will most likely be incumbent Nicolas Maduro, although some in government (most notably, Maduro’s number two, Diosdado Cabello) have said that “chavismo” does not have a Presidential candidate yet.
Under the present electoral law, Presidential elections need to be called six months ahead. Officially, no party has requested them, but they are on the agenda for the next opposition-government negotiations meeting, which will take place Friday in the Dominican Republic.
The MUD opposition coalition, after a big electoral win in 2015, has suffered at the hands of the PSUV ruling party, as it engages in outright fraud at elections, suspicious enough for the even United States and other governments not to recognize them and even impose sanctions on embattled head of state Nicolas Maduro, his Vice President Tareck El Aissami and dozens of other former and current high-ranking officials, including the CNE electoral board heads.
Caldera admitted that, under the present conditions, it will be very hard to hold free and fair elections in Venezuela: that is why changing the directors of the CNE electoral board, admittedly aligned with Maduro and the PSUV, is also an item on the Dominican Republic negotiations’ agenda.
“The agreements (to be reached in the DR) must have international guarantees,” Caldera said, when inquired as to how to prevent new electoral fraud.
Right now, according to the opposition lawmaker, there is no such thing as a free vote in Venezuela, since the government forces militants and sympathizers to vote for its candidates.
“The government wants to have an opposition made to measure and of its own choosing,” Caldera added. “And we are calling on a crusade to defend the right to a free vote.”
Maduro said Sunday he would ban Venezuela’s three largest opposition parties from any new contests after they boycotted the December 10th municipal elections (in which PSUV party candidates won 91% of all municipal governments), citing unfair conditions.