Nicolas Maduro to seek re-election in Venezuela's presidential vote in April

Nicolas Maduro to seek re-election in Venezuela's presidential vote in April

Venezuela's constitutional assembly has ordered presidential elections by April 30 as the ruling socialist party seeks to consolidate its grip on power amid a worsening economic crisis.

President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday that he is ready to seek re-election after his allies pushed forward voting in a move widely seen as a bid to capitalise on disarray in the Venezuelan opposition.

The election has been ordered to take place months ahead of when the country's presidential voting has traditionally taken place.

Mr Maduro said the ruling socialist party would settle on a single consensus candidate at a convention on February 4.

If selected, he said, he would relish the opportunity to measure up against his opponents. He called on the National Electoral Council to set as near a date as possible for the presidential election.

"They should find the closest date, to get this out of the way so we can begin to make a great revolution," a jubilant Maduro told hundreds of redshirted supporters at a rally to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of Venezuela's last military dictatorship. "If it was in my hands, the election would be this weekend," he added.

While Venezuelans had been expecting an early election, the announcement came as somewhat of a surprise because talks between the opposition and government have been taking place in the Dominican Republic for weeks - so far without a breakthrough.

The opposition has been using those talks to push for guarantees that voting will be free and fair, with the participation of independent foreign monitors.

Foreign ministers from 14 mostly conservative Latin American governments meeting in Chile to discuss Venezuela criticised the announcement of an early election, saying in a harshly worded statement that it was "impossible" for the ballot's outcome to be credible under current conditions.

Mexico, one of several foreign governments mediating the talks in the Dominican Republic, said it was withdrawing its support for the talks to protest the government's move.

When asked about Mr Maduro running for another six-year term, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: "I don't think that's a good idea."

Mr Maduro was accompanied at the rally by Diosdado Cabello, the number two leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

It was Mr Cabello, seen as Mr Maduro's biggest internal rival, who earlier on Tuesday proposed holding the election by the end of April, saying it was the best way to counter criticism by the US and others that Venezuela is descending into dictatorship.

While he did not explicitly endorse Maduro, he praised him as the hand-picked successor of the late President Hugo Chavez and said the revolution would easily settle on a single candidate.

"We're not going to have any problem," Cabello said to thunderous applause during Tuesday's raucous session of the constitutional assembly.

This would be Venezuela's fourth election since a July vote installed the constitutional assembly, which has been condemned internationally as a naked power grab by Mr Maduro.

According to Venezuela's constitution, a new six-year presidential term must begin in January 2019. While an election can be held any time before then, voting is typically held in the final three months of the year to avoid an extended transition.

Although polls say Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame Mr Maduro for widespread food shortages and triple-digit inflation that has pulverised wages, the opposition was left rudderless as several prominent politicians were barred from office or forced into exile last year following a deadly protest movement seeking the president's removal.

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