Venezuela must strengthen separation of powers -E.U. election observers report

CARACAS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Venezuela must reinforce its separation of powers, especially the independence of its judicial branch, to give more autonomy to its electoral commission and improve the voting process, the European Union's electoral observation mission said on Tuesday.

The recommendation is among 23 included in the mission's final report on regional and local elections that took place last November, the first time in 15 years that EU observers were present at a Venezuela vote. read more

The judicial independence of courts in Venezuela has been under scrutiny by non-governmental organizations and the Organization of American States, which say even the supreme court operates in coordination with the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

The Supreme Court ordered a re-run of the November contest for governor of Barinas state, disqualifying opposition candidate Freddy Superlano, who looked set to win. Decisions about whether candidates can run are typically made by the electoral commission.

The opposition won the seat in January, in a rescheduled vote that was unobserved by the mission because visas for their staff had already expired.

"In ordering a repeat of the elections in Barinas for Jan. 9, 2022, the (supreme court) interfered in the responsibilities of the (national electoral commission)," the mission's report said.

Maduro's government has long faced criticisms from the United States and others that it engages in anti-democratic practices.

The EU - which had not sent electoral observers to Venezuela since 2006 - faced criticism from some opposition figures who said its presence implicitly legitimized the November vote.

"This report neither gives nor takes away legitimacy... it only gives recommendations," said mission head and Portuguese parliamentarian Isabel Santos in a virtual news conference from Brussels.

Santos said she planned to hand over the report in person but the electoral commission did not respond to her requests to set a date, so the 8-page report was presented virtually to them on Monday.

The Ministry of Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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