Lula Welcomes United Opposition in Venezuela Race Against Maduro

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(Bloomberg) -- Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva cheered the Venezuelan opposition’s decision to unite behind a single candidate, saying that it will set the stage for a potentially legitimate election in the beleaguered nation led by Nicolas Maduro.

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“There’s something extraordinary happening in Venezuela,” the leftist Brazil leader said during a Tuesday press conference in Brasilia. “The whole opposition has gathered, the opposition is launching a single candidate, and there will be elections.”

Maduro has faced international blowback — including the reinstatement of US oil sanctions last week — for barring leading candidate Maria Corina Machado and her potential replacement from the July 28 election. After weeks of internal disputes that threatened to divide the opposition ahead of the contest, the 10-party coalition last weekend uniformly backed Edmundo Gonzalez, a little-known former ambassador, as its candidate.

Lula, a longtime ally of Venezuela’s socialist governments, joined in the criticism of Maduro in late March, saying that there was no explanation for blocking the registration of legitimate candidates. He had previously drawn backlash from the opposition for comments in which he urged Machado and her supporters to stop “crying” and choose a replacement, as his party had after his arrest ahead of Brazil’s 2018 election.

Read More: Maduro at Crossroads as Venezuela Opposition Joins Together

He also welcomed the possibility that international observers will monitor the election, and said he hoped a fair election could pave the way for the end of an economic crisis that has caused millions of Venezuelans to flee the country.

“I hope that Venezuela will return to normality, so that the US will lift sanctions and Venezuela can once again receive back the people who are leaving the country because of the economic situation,” Lula said.

The election, however, is taking place against the backdrop of Maduro’s crackdowns on opposition parties and figures, including the arrest of roughly a dozen of Machado’s campaign aides and allies. The Venezuelan leader needs at least one credible opponent to legitimize the race’s results, but with initial polls showing that a united opposition could defeat him, it remains unclear whether he will allow Gonzalez and the coalition to participate.

Read More: Lula Calls on Ally Maduro to Hold Fair Elections in Venezuela

Last week, Lula agreed with a proposal presented by Colombian President Gustavo Petro that calls for a democratic pact between the government and opposition to ensure that the loser is shielded from any type of political persecution.

The plan involves a plebiscite to be carried out together with the presidential vote to garner popular backing for the pact.

--With assistance from Daniel Carvalho.

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