February 23, 2018 / 5:56 PM / 2 years ago

Venezuela eyes separate election dates for president, congress

FILE PHOTO - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he speaks during the event launching the new Venezuelan cryptocurrency "petro" in Caracas, Venezuela February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s election council said on Friday it was considering holding legislative elections separately from the presidential vote scheduled for April 22, contradicting a proposal by President Nicolas Maduro to unify the two polls.

Maduro this week had suggested moving up the legislative elections, which were not to be held until 2020, and holding them together with the presidential vote as well as elections for state and municipal legislatures.

“Right now, we are not prepared to hold the presidential election together with other elections that are technically more complicated,” electoral authority chief Tibisay Lucena said in a televised broadcast. “The National Elections Council will evaluate a later date for the parliamentary elections.”

The opposition in 2015 won a broad majority in the legislative elections, but Maduro’s allies on the Supreme Court stripped it of many of its powers and systematically shot down every piece of legislation it approved.

Maduro last year led the creation of a legislative superbody called the Constituent Assembly, which has no formal checks on its powers. Its creation led many countries around the world to describe Maduro as a dictator, a charge Maduro dismisses as part of a campaign against him by the United States.

The former bus driver and union organizer is broadly unpopular due to a crippling economic crisis that has left millions unable to afford basic food items and fueled an exodus of migrants.

The best-known opposition leaders are either barred from holding office, in jail for leading protests, or in exile to avoid arrest. The main opposition coalition has said it will not participate in the vote, though other candidates could break with the coalition and run on their own.

Maduro says the country is the victim of a U.S.-backed economic war and that the opposition’s refusal to participate is due to fear that they will lose.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum

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