CARACAS The leader of Venezuela's opposition coalition, Ramon Aveledo, resigned on Tuesday after a five-year stint in which he united fractious politicians but failed to end socialist rule.
Though twice-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles was the best-known face of Venezuela's opposition in recent years, it was Aveledo who was in charge of the Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition that brought opposition factions together behind him.
The 63-year-old bearded professor, viewed as an 'eminence grise' in opposition circles, said he was stepping aside to allow renewal but not leaving the opposition cause.
"I'm simply changing my battle post," he said in a surprise announcement leaving the opposition both rudderless and divided.
Venezuela's opposition parties suffered from chronic in-fighting during a decade of President Hugo Chavez's rule, enabling him to outwit them time-and-time again at elections.
But, with Aveledo as the intellectual architect, they came together for a 2009 legislative vote, and Capriles fought two presidential elections on their behalf.
Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, lost to Chavez in 2012, but got the highest opposition vote share yet in a plethora of national votes under Chavez. Then he narrowly lost to Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro in 2013.
Since then, opposition ranks have split again, with hardline activists turning on Capriles and Aveledo for not taking a more militant line against alleged vote fraud in 2013 and during anti-government protests this year.
Both Capriles and Aveledo have lambasted the Maduro government over its handling of the three months of demonstrations, which sparked violence killing 43 people, but they have also sat down with him for political dialogue.
Radical opposition and student leaders are unhappy at that.
"I don't want my name and the controversy it may arouse to be an excuse for firing shots at unity," Aveledo said, alleging that a campaign against him begun by the government had spread to opposition circles.
"My job is not to win arguments, but to help generate consensus," he said.
There was no word on who might replace Aveledo.
(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Andrew Hay)