The Venezuelan government and a number of opposition parties have reached an agreement, which postponed the presidential election by less than a month and requires the contenders to respect the results.
Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the decision on Friday, saying that the poll initially scheduled for April 22 would now be held on May 20.
Tibisay Lucena, head of the CNE, said the surprise postponement was the result of a deal reached between the ruling Socialist Party of incumbent President Nicolas Maduro and political leaders of Venezuelan opposition parties such as Progressive Advance, COPEI and MAS.
“The electoral power celebrates the signing of this agreement through which these organizations commit to the country so that this electoral process may contribute to the peace between Venezuelans,” Lucena said.
“With this agreement, we ratify that in Venezuela we choose our leaders with the broadest and fullest electoral guarantees,” she added.
The CNE chief also announced that Caracas had agreed on “electoral guarantees” for the forthcoming elections with the opposition parties in the Latin American country.
The electoral guarantees included safeguarding equal access to both private and public, national and international media, as well as social media coverage.
Lucena noted that the deal also obliged the CNE to create a delegation to observe “all phases of the electoral process” with participants from the United Nations and “other mutually agreed upon international bodies and organizations.”
This is while the main opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) said it would be maintaining its boycott of the May 20 election and refused to put up any candidates to oppose Maduro.
Henri Falcon, an opposition member and former governor of Venezuela’s Lara State, along with two other candidates, however, broke ranks and announced his decision to run.
“We’re here to demand the fulfillment of these agreements. We’re here because we want and we hope that they play fair and that we can truly respect the will of the majority of the Venezuelans who call for a peaceful change in Venezuela,” Falcon said after signing the electoral guarantee agreement.
Maduro’s two strongest opposition rivals, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles, are both barred from standing following the violence fueled by opposition protests last year, which claimed nearly 130 lives.
Maduro has registered his candidacy and plans to run for a second six-year term against a background of severe economic problems.
There are speculations that the delay will ease pressure on the Venezuelan government, which already faces criticism over the country’s economic and political crisis in the wake of plunging oil prices in the global market.
An unnamed US government official quoted by news agency Reuters said a delay “likely would not prompt the US administration to hold back on sanctions.”
Experts say the new US sanctions would potentially harm ordinary Venezuelans, already suffering from food shortages and hyperinflation, but have little or no impact on the Venezuelan government’s policies.
Maduro, the 55-year-old president who came to power after the late Hugo Chavez in 2013, says the right-wing opposition is incited by the United States to topple his socialist government, hobble the country’s economy, and plunder its oil wealth.