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Cool language and fix economy, says Venezuela leader's former aide

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s government must calm its rhetoric and make pragmatic fixes to an ailing economy after losing the legislature to the opposition for the first time in 16 years, a former senior aide to President Nicolas Maduro said in an interview.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro talks to supporters during a meeting outside Miraflores Palace in Caracas, December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

And the opposition should not be overconfident, given the Socialists still won more than 40 percent of votes despite the economic crisis, warned Temir Porras, who was also an aide to Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez.

“I do not doubt this is a very impressive victory for the opposition but it’s also a very fragile one,” said Porras, 41, who still calls himself “Chavista” despite being pushed out of government in 2013 over differences with Maduro.

“Venezuela remains very polarized with an advantage to the opposition forces. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking two-thirds of people in Venezuela are now supporting the opposition,” he told Reuters.

Suffering the world’s highest inflation, recession and shortages, Venezuelans punished the ruling Socialist Party in this month’s vote that gave the opposition a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

“There has to be a serene debate on economic strategy,” said Porras, who also used to head the country’s sovereign fund and state development bank and has been critical of the government’s dogmatic adherence to strict state economic controls.

“The main problem is a lack of pragmatism in addressing the crisis itself, instead of trying to explain it with some political theory ... You can oppose capitalism but you cannot ignore that it exists.”

Smarting at his defeat, Maduro has blamed an “economic war,” said the “bad guys won” and called it an “electoral coup.”

Such bellicosity may harm him, Porras said, urging a more moderate approach to avoid an institutional showdown.

When it takes over the National Assembly on Jan. 5, the opposition wants to prioritize an amnesty law to free imprisoned politicians. That, Porras said, could backfire on them by frustrating voters whose priority is the economy, while at the same time uniting the Socialist Party against the law. “If there is an issue that unites Chavismo around its leadership, it’s this.”

A former deputy foreign minister who was also chief-of-staff to Maduro when he was foreign minister, Porras is now a professor at the Paris School of International Affairs.

He remains broadly loyal to his “gifted” former boss.

“No one is asking him to imitate President Chavez,” he said. “The main issue is to preserve the basis and ideals of Chavismo but deliver good governance.”

Editing by Alexandra Ulmer, Andrew Cawthorne and Jeffrey Benkoe

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