Maduro favourite in Venezuela’s presidential battle

CARACAS: Venezuela’s presidential election race was underway on Wednesday, with favourite and incumbent Nicolas Maduro signalling an “anti-Trump” platform while demoralised foes scrambled for a candidate and feared an unfair vote.
Foes say Maduro, 55, a former bus driver who succeeded Hugo Chavez in 2013, has ruined a once-prosperous oil economy, turned Venezuela into a dictatorship and skewed the election system to perpetuate power for his Socialist Party.
Officials say they are fighting a US-led right-wing conspiracy determined to end socialism in Latin America, hobble Venezuela’s economy, and steal its oil wealth.
“Donald Trump is not the boss of Venezuela!” thundered Maduro at a rally late on Tuesday, after the pro-government Constituent Assembly legislative superbody said the vote would be held by April 30.
Trump said last year a military intervention was an option in Venezuela, though he dialed down the rhetoric after a strong regional backlash to that comment.
Maduro’s candidacy appears a formality: he says he will stand if the Socialist Party wants him, and party leaders say there is no other candidate under consideration.
The president’s approval ratings have plunged during a brutal four-year recession caused by failed statist policies such as decade-old currency controls and the fall in global oil prices since 2014.
Foreign sanctions against Maduro’s government, including a US prohibition on investors dealing with any new Venezuelan debt, have exacerbated the grim panorama as millions suffer food and medicine shortages and the world’s highest inflation. But having survived massive protests last year and consolidated his grip, the international pressure has now given Maduro a powerful rallying cry to seek re-election.
“Faced with more sanctions, we say more elections…The people rule in Venezuela, not empires,” he added in Tuesday’s rally, getting straight into campaign mode with jingles from past elections.”I’m ready…We’re going to win big.”
Venezuela’s opposition, which brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets last year in an attempt to oust the unpopular Maduro, is in a quandary.
Its most popular figures are prevented from standing: some are in jail, others in exile or barred from politics. “The election will be held on Maduro’s terms, allowing him to ensure his victory,” the Eurasia consultancy said.— AFP