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Why do so many countries think Maduro will steal Venezuela's presidential election?

Antonio Maria Delgado, El Nuevo Herald on

Published in News & Features

Trapped in a political quagmire, a consolidating dictatorship and a collapsing economy, Venezuelans are supposed to go to the polls on Sunday in a presidential election that in theory will allow them to change their fortunes.

Yet much of the international community has come out against the May 20 vote, with the United States and most Latin American countries portraying it as a sort of line in the sand that Nicolas Maduro, seeking a new six-year presidential term, should refrain from crossing.

Why are some of the most democratic nations in the hemisphere dead set against an election when polls claim that more than 80 percent of the people want to end Venezuela's increasingly autocratic regime?

Because it will be a sham, most of the countries, including the United States, contend.

"On Election Day itself, the Maduro regime has already given every indication that it will resort to its authoritarian playbook," Vice President Mike Pence said last week in a speech before the Organization of American States (OAS), calling for Venezuela to suspend its elections. "In short, there will be no real election in Venezuela on May 20 and the world knows it. It will be a fake election with a fake outcome."

He is not alone in the claim. The OAS and Latin America's most influential countries, gathered under the umbrella of the Lima Group, have also asked Maduro to change course, arguing that Venezuelans may cast votes on Sunday but the results won't reflect the will of the people.

The Venezuelan vote, analysts say, violates many of the basic rules about free and fair elections, starting with the authority to call for the election at all.

The elections, which according to the constitution should be held in December, were called by the controversial National Constituent Assembly, a Maduro-government controlled organization that has effectively sidelined the opposition-controlled legislature.

Experts said the regime had no legal right to move the election forward, but stressed that more worrisome is the fear that by holding an election, the National Constituent Assembly will be granted legitimacy.

The assembly -- created last year in an election that many said included up to three million fraudulent votes -- is all-powerful and could make any potential opposition victory meaningless because it could strip any office of its authority.

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