CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s supreme court on Friday named new leaders to the national electoral council that will oversee parliamentary elections later this year, a widely expected move that opposition leaders call an effort to rig the upcoming vote.
Critics of President Nicolas Maduro have repeatedly accused the elections council of favoring the ruling Socialist Party, and in 2018 boycotted the vote that led to Maduro’s re-election on the grounds that it was rigged.
The South American nation must swear in a new congress by the start of next year but has not yet set a date for the poll, which will likely be complicated by the coronavirus epidemic that has led to a strict quarantine.
Indira Alfonzo, a supreme court magistrate who led the electoral chamber, was tapped as the new elections council chief, the overtly pro-government supreme court said in a statement posted on Facebook.
The court said the opposition-run legislature was in “unconstitutional omission” and therefore it had decided to designate the council leaders. The constitution grants this power to congress.
Legislators are working to name the electoral council leadership themselves, and insist that the supreme court does not have the jurisdiction to do so.
“Given that we disavow this farcical (supreme court), we disavow what they produce,” legislator Juan Pablo Guanipa wrote on Twitter. “It’s an electoral barricade created by the dictatorship.”
Legislative chief Juan Guaido last year assumed a parallel presidency after declaring Maduro a usurper, and won diplomatic recognition from dozens of countries including the United States as Venezuela’s interim president.
The upcoming election will force the opposition to choose between participating in what will likely be a process stacked in the Socialist Party’s favor, or boycotting the vote and losing all of its representation in congress.
It was not immediately clear how countries that recognize Guaido would respond if the opposition lost its majority, given that his claim to leadership is based on being the leader of parliament.
Reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Mayela Armas and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Wallis
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