Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolás Maduro has ruled that the main opposition parties can no longer stand in next year’s presidential election, the latest in a series of anti-democratic moves by his regime.
Maduro made the announcement after the main opposition parties — including Popular Will, Democratic Action, and Justice First — refused to participate in Sunday’s mayoral elections, which they claim were fraudulent.
“A party that has not participated today and has called for the boycott of the elections can’t participate anymore,” said in an impromptu press conference following Sunday’s vote. “They will disappear from the political map.”
“I can’t understand that a group of political leaders from the right having withdrawn … If they don’t want any elections, where are they going?” he continued. “What is the alternative. Arms? War?”
The pledge is further evidence that next year’s presidential election will be rigged in Maduro’s favor, as members of the left-leaning opposition seek to obtain guarantees that the vote will be both free and fair.
Just 20 percent of Venezuelans voted in Sunday’s mayoral elections, according to reports, with Maduro’s Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) winning more than 300 of the 335 available mayoral offices.
His party’s supposed popularity comes despite the country facing the worst humanitarian crisis in its history, as millions of people face starvation and lack of adequate medical care amid skyrocketing rates of inflation that have rendered the Venezuelan Bolivar practically worthless.
“The imperialists have tried to set fire to Venezuela to take our riches,” Maduro said on television, announcing his victory. “We’ve defeated the American imperialists with our votes, our ideas, truths, reason, and popular will.”
Although Venezuela has operated as a quasi-dictatorship since the rule of the late leader Hugo Chávez, through numerous fraudulent elections and voter intimidation schemes, Maduro managed to further consolidate his authority this year with the creation of an illegal lawmaking body known as the “national constituent assembly.”
The assembly, which was installed in the wake of a widely boycotted and rigged election, usurped the power of elected lawmakers and replaced them with pro-government supporters.
In October, Maduro’s ruling PSUV successfully rigged the results of the country’s regional elections, winning 19 out of 23 governor’s seats, despite having trailed significantly in opinion polls prior to the vote.
Following the election, the State Department noted the huge number of irregularities, which included closing polling stations in opposition-held areas, banning certain candidates from running, and prohibiting international observers.
Maduro has also maintained his authority by imprisoning some of his opponents, including the Popular Will leader Leopoldo Lopez and the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma. Last month, Ledezma successfully fled the country to Madrid, while Lopez remains imprisoned at the Ramo Verde military prison in Caracas.