Venezuela presidential election pushed back to May

National Electoral Council announced election had been pushed back from the scheduled date of April 22

Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcon talks to the media after registering his candidacy for president at the National Electoral Council (CNE) headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuela on Thursday postponed its presidential election until the second half of May, as President Nicolas Maduro seeks a second six-year term despite the oil-rich country’s widespread economic woes.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the election had been pushed back from the scheduled date of April 22, but did not give a precise date in May for the polls.

“It is proposed that the elections for president be held simultaneously” with elections for regional legislatures “in the second half of May 2018,” it said.

Maduro’s main challenger, dissident former socialist Henri Falcon, appears to have won several concessions on conditions for the elections in talks with the government, according to the contents of the CNE statement.

According to the agreement, UN chief Antonio Guterres will be invited to send an observer mission to monitor “all phases of the process.”

The government in Caracas also agreed to extend the deadline allowing Venezuelans abroad to register to vote, and to ensure equal access to media and social networks during the campaign.

The demand for the presence of an international observer mission had been a key demand of the fractured opposition coalition -- the Democratic Union Roundtable, or MUD -- which decided to boycott the election when negotiations with the government broke down.

Ordinary Venezuelans are struggling with hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund projects will climb to 13,000 percent this year, along with chronic shortages of basic foods and medicine.

Maduro’s leading opponents have been barred from standing in the election, leading some to argue that the deeply unpopular leader is rigging the vote. The MUD has called the election a “fraudulent show.”

The MUD on Thursday called on Falcon, a 56-year-old retired military officer, to withdraw from the election, accusing him of legitimizing a poll lacking in any guarantees that it would be free and fair.

Analyst Felix Seijas said the deal contained elements designed “to send a democratic image abroad.”

“Falcon gains a little more time to build his campaign,” analyst Francine Jacome told AFP.

“He gains the perception that what the MUD did not achieve in (negotiations in) Santo Domingo, he got, which was to move the date, and some ‘better electoral conditions.’”

Political scientist Luis Salamanca noted that the elections had already been pushed back from December to April.

“It’s as if the elections were portable: ‘Put them where I want and when I want, as long as it suits the government,’” he said.

Falcon said earlier this week that private negotiations were taking place between the government and some opposition groups about the date and conditions for the elections.

The CNE’s chairman, Tibisay Lucena, said the agreement of both sides demonstrated the fact “that our leaders and representatives are elected with the broadest constitutional and democratic guarantees.”

According to the private polling firm Instituto Venezolano de Analisis de Datos, Falcon has 24 percent voter support while Maduro has 18 percent.

But that doesn’t take into account the vast Socialist Party machinery and sway over state institutions that Maduro has, analysts say.

Registration of candidates for the presidential poll ends on Thursday.