Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday officially lodged his candidacy in a snap April 22 presidential election boycotted by the opposition.
His tilt at another six-year mandate risks deepening debt-ridden Venezuela's international isolation, with the United States and big Latin American countries rejecting the validity of the upcoming vote.
Maduro, a 55-year-old former bus driver and union leader, visited the tomb of his late mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez before going to the National Electoral Council to formally sign his candidacy.
"We are going to elect him again. With this vote we are going to resolve the problems we have," said one in a crowd of supporters who accompanied him, Hector Cadenas.
The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (known by its initials in Spanish as MUD), which controls the current legislature, rejects the election as a "fraudulent show" after its leaders most likely to beat Maduros were barred from running.
"This is a veneer of an election... a mere political act by Maduro's supporters to give him acclaim," a political analyst, Luis Salamanca, told AFP.
- Rivals have little chance -
The only challengers to Maduro are two former Chavez supporters who have distanced themselves from the current government -- one of them an ex-governor, Henri Falcon -- and a little-known evangelical pastor.
"They can be seen as giving Maduro the excuse to say he has rivals. But without the MUD there is no chance," Salamanca said.
According to the private polling firm Instituto Venezolano de Analisis de Datos, Falcon has 24 percent voter support while Maduro has 18 percent.
But that doesn't take into account the vast Socialist Party machinery and sway over state institutions that Maduro has, analysts say.
"Falcon alone isn't enough of a facade for the government to show the world" to argue the election is legitimate, said Felix Seijas, director of the Delphos polling firm.
The former governor of Lara state notably failed last October to be re-elected, and he is distrusted by the opposition because of his pro-Chavez roots.
Francine Jacome, a political analyst, said she believed Falcon had a regional base of support, but it was in decline. "He might attract a few opposition voters, but his impact will be minimal," she predicted.
The election was meant to be held at the end of this year, but Maduro brought it forward to exploit fractures in the opposition.
Violent protests erupted last year against his rule, which was blamed for Venezuela's runaway inflation and scarcity of basic goods despite the nation's oil wealth.
But Maduro has survived thanks to the unfailing support of the military, which controls key government portfolios, and the creation of a "Constituent Assembly" loyalists that has arrogated supreme legislative powers.
- Sanctions -
The EU's diplomatic chief Frederica Mogherini on Monday called on Venezuela to hold "credible elections" and warned the European bloc was ready to react if they did not take place.
The US and the EU have already imposed sanctions on Maduro's regime, reducing its room for maneuver as it teeters on the brink of default.
Several Latin American nations, among them Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, rejected the early election and many say they will not recognize its result.
There is also international concern over moves to bring forward legislative elections due in 2020.
Jacome said the most likely outlook for Venezuela was "more international pressure, impossibility to govern, and a worsening of the economic and social situation."