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Leading Venezuelan opposition party shuns presidential vote

February 16, 2018

FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2017 file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference at the Miraflores presidential palace, in Caracas, Venezuela. Maduro told international journalists Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, he isn’t above crashing a party after his invitation was yanked to the Summit of the Americas, a meeting of regional leaders set for April in Peru. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A leading party in Venezuela said Friday that it won’t take part in the presidential election against President Nicolas Maduro, exposing divides in the opposition coalition.

The Popular Will party said in a statement that it refuses to validate what it called the fraudulent April 22 election by participating. It is Venezuela’s third largest opposition party and led by Leopoldo Lopez, who is under house arrest for organizing 2014 street protests.

The decision came as a coalition of some 20 opposition parties pushed ahead with meetings this weekend aimed at reaching a unified position on whether to participate.

“We will not nominate or endorse any candidate,” Popular Will said, adding that doing otherwise would be “doing the dictatorship a favor.”

Officials loyal to Maduro’s socialist administration recently scheduled the election after the collapse of negotiations in the Dominican Republic between the government and opposition leaders aimed at holding a free and fair election.

The Trump administration has said it will reject the “snap” election, which is being held much earlier in the year than is traditional in Venezuela. More than a dozen of Venezuela’s neighboring Latin American countries have also criticized the early vote, saying it breaks from democratic norms.

But not all of Venezuela’s opposition parties appear to share the same strategy. Henry Ramos, head of the Democratic Action party, said he favors the opposition rallying around a single candidate to compete against Maduro.

Ramos said the government would not stand a chance at winning a fair election and cheating would be obvious if the opposition candidate lost.

“If the elections are free the government will lose, and if they are not free they’ll lose because they aren’t legitimate,” he said in a locally televised interview.

A divided opposition is a boost for Maduro, who has a 20 percent popularity rating as he seeks a second six-year term while Venezuela sinks deeper into economic crisis. Widespread shortages of food and medicine have been driving thousands of Venezuelans to leave the country.

Benigno Alarcon, director of the Center for Political Studies at Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas, said Venezuela’s opposition has no good choices about participating in the election.

“It would be like throwing yourself into an adventure that does not make much sense,” Alarcon said. “Nor will it produce any positive result.”

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