Venezuela’s political opposition rejects request to delay primary

By Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) -Venezuela’s opposition election commission said on Monday it will move forward with its late October primary vote to pick its presidential candidate for next year’s general election, after the country’s national electoral council sought a delay.

The South American nation’s beleaguered political opposition will face off against President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling socialists, who have presided over a prolonged economic meltdown marked by sky-high inflation and persecution of critics, according to rights groups.

Maduro is expected to run for re-election, but has not yet made a formal announcement.

Last month, the National Electoral Council (CNE) – seen by the opposition as aligned with Maduro – responded to a June request to assist with the opposition’s primary, saying it could provide voting centers and machines but stressing more time was needed to help organize the primary vote for later in November.

But most of the 13 opposition candidates rejected this request, preferring to keep the Oct. 22 primary, while criticizing what they called a slow CNE response.

The opposition commission – made up of eight lawyers and experts – said it had asked for up to 400 additional voting centers as well as security at the centers and help facilitating visas for electoral experts and foreign journalists covering the process.

In its own statement later on Monday, the CNE insisted it holds “exclusive competency” to organize elections but would provide technical support to the opposition “to guarantee a reliable, transparent process” that promotes participation and security.

The statement did not address the primary election’s date.

Venezuela’s opposition counts some 3,000 voting centers, according to commission president Jesus Maria Casal.

Some 14,000 Venezuelan schools typically serve as electoral centers for the country’s 20 million voters, but since the primary is being carried out independently, these cannot be used without CNE authorization.

Venezuelan authorities have in recent months disqualified some opposition candidates, including former lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, the opposition’s leading hopeful in polls.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Editing by Sonali Paul)