Saturday, February 24, 2018

Time runs out for Venezuela to elect new president

A member of the Venezuelan militia

The opposition spent 2016 calling for a referendum against deeply unpopular President Nicolas Maduro. Courts and electoral officials friendly to the administration blocked that campaign at every turn.

A recall is still legally possible. But Tuesday marks the start of the last two years of Maduro's term. The constitution says any successful recall vote after this date would have Maduro replaced by his hard-line vice president rather than prompting a new election an opponent would likely win. With food shortages worsening and inflation running in the triple digits, Maduro's approval ratings have recently fallen below 20 percent.

The opposition-controlled congress is expected to restart a symbolic political trial of Maduro Monday. Congress adopted new leadership last week widely seen as more moderate, but the return to the political trial suggests that the opposition will continue to follow the same playbook as last year.

The opposition briefly suspended the political trial last fall as a gesture of good will as it engaged in Vatican-mediated talks with the government. Those talks fell apart after the opposition said the government was refusing to make real concessions.

Socialist Party leaders celebrated on Monday. Former congress president and Socialist Party heavyweight Diosdado Cabello said the political trial would make no difference.

"The opposition-controlled congress never tires of its foolishness, this time with a political trial. The truth is Maduro will continue as president," he wrote on Twitter.