Venezuelan politician to challenge Nicolas Maduro in presidential election
Henri Falcon appears to be breaking ranks from a coalition of opposition parties not taking part until the government ensures greater transparency.
A prominent Venezuelan politician appears to be breaking ranks with the opposition coalition by challenging leader Nicolas Maduro in the upcoming presidential election.
A campaign consultant for Henri Falcon said the former governor and retired military officer is prepared to declare his candidacy.
Mr Falcon would be the only major politician so far to take on socialist president Mr Maduro, who leads the oil-rich country beset by historic economic and political crisis.
“It’s a fact and a right,” said consultant Eduardo Semtei, confirming Mr Falcon’s run to The Associated Press.
Officials loyal to Mr Maduro recently approved an early presidential election for April 22, drawing broad condemnation from the United States and several of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbours who said the conditions for a fair election are lacking.
A coalition of some 20 opposition parties has said it will not take part until the government takes steps to ensure the vote is fair and transparent.
Opposition politician Simon Calzadilla said that the coalition’s demand for more electoral guarantees remain firm, despite Mr Falcon’s decision. Mr Calzadilla accused the government of continuing to commit “flagrant violations” of the electoral process.
Mr Semtei said, however, that Mr Falcon’s challenge is justified by concessions such as the government decision to allow international election observers.
The overall coalition is demanding more extensive changes, including delaying the vote and lifting bans on major political parties. It also wants guarantees that Venezuelans living abroad can vote.
Mr Falcon once served as a top aide to the late president Hugo Chavez, but he later broke with the socialist party and joined the opposition, heading the minority Advanced Progressive party.
A poll early this month by the Datanalisis firm showed Mr Falcon leading Mr Maduro by 53 to 47%. The survey of 800 people had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
Mr Maduro, who declared his candidacy weeks ago, submitted his papers with the national election officials on Tuesday, formalising his campaign.
State television showed Mr Maduro riding to the election headquarters through Caracas in the back of a red truck surrounded by a jubilant sea of supporters waving flags and spraying confetti into the air.
Venezuela sits on top of the world’s largest oil reserves, but the state-run oil firm’s production of crude has plunged under nearly two decades of socialist rule.
The crisis has worsened with thousands of Venezuelans enduring shortages of food and medicine fleeing to neighbouring countries.