Maduro at Crossroads as Venezuela Opposition Joins Together

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(Bloomberg) -- Newfound unity within Venezuela’s opposition is testing President Nicolás Maduro’s willingness to regain international legitimacy, taking his chances in an open presidential election.

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The government must decide whether to allow the opposition to continue with little-known former ambassador Edmundo González, who was unanimously chosen late Friday to represent the group in the vote. A decision is expected ahead of Tuesday at midnight, when a 72-hour extension of the window to register candidates expires.

Impeding the opposition from moving forward with its unexpected plan would lay bare Maduro’s efforts to trample his adversaries as international monitoring groups visit Caracas. Election observers including the Carter Center and the United Nations will hold discussions this week and decide whether to monitor the July 28 election, potentially validating the vote in the eyes of the world.

Potential moves by the Maduro regime include banning the 10-party coalition known as the Unitary Platform, which would prevent the group from participating in both the presidential election as well as upcoming regional and parliamentary votes.

Last month, a Maduro ally requested that the Supreme Court annul the coalition’s voting card. On Monday morning, the court ruled against another opposition party in favor of a group of dissidents that are seen as more aligned with the regime.

Since the Unitary Platform’s decision, two opposition parties attempting to register support for González’s candidacy have encountered technical difficulties with the automated elections system. On Monday, they were denied two attempts of in-person access at the National Electoral Council’s headquarters.

Allowing González to continue would be a tacit way to keep disqualified opposition primary winner María Corina Machado in the race after the government prevented her little-known, 80-year-old substitute, Corina Yoris, from being enrolled last month.

“The questions now are whether González, with the popular María Corina Machado behind him, can galvanize voters on the campaign trail, and how the regime led by President Nicolás Maduro reacts to the opposition’s stronger-than-expected spirit of unity,” analysts including Nicholas Watson of Teneo Holdings wrote in a note.

González, 74, originally entered the campaign as a tentative candidate after a late-March window to enroll in the race was extended. Expectations were that Zulia state Governor Manuel Rosales, who was unilaterally registered by his party, would eventually replace González as the coalition’s candidate. The surprise twist led Rosales, who many saw as handpicked by Maduro, to resign on Saturday. His moderate party, called A New Era, is one of the two trying to back González’s candidacy.

Maduro needs at least one credible contender to legitimize the vote’s results in front of international electoral observers. Without Rosales and González, Maduro would remain in the race with other little-known, little-trusted candidates, many of whom have split from the opposition.

Last week, President Joe Biden’s administration reimposed oil sanctions on Venezuela, arguing that Maduro didn’t fully meet the terms of an agreement to allow inclusive and competitive elections. A Monday visit to Caracas from International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan, who has been investigating the Venezuelan government for alleged crimes against humanity since 2021, also adds pressure to Maduro.

After the US decision, Venezuelan negotiator Jorge Rodríguez warned that the opposition had reached the end of the line. “This time we are not going to give in even a little bit in regards with Venezuela’s extreme right,” Rodríguez said at a press conference.

Despite denouncing the US as having breached the agreement, Maduro’s government didn’t close the door to continuing talks. Allowing González to run could be a wink to the Biden administration to keep the deal alive.

(Updates starting with analyst quote in the eight paragraph.)

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