Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela opposition banned from running in 2018 election

People look for their names on electoral rolls before voting in the municipal elections in Caracas on December 10, 2017. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Venezuelans look for their names on electoral rolls before voting in Sunday's mayoral polls

Venezuela's President, Nicolás Maduro, says the country's main opposition parties are banned from taking part in next year's presidential election.

He said only parties which took part in Sunday's mayoral polls would be able to contest the presidency.

Leaders from the Justice First, Popular Will and Democratic Action parties boycotted the vote because they said the electoral system was biased.

President Maduro insists the Venezuelan system is entirely trustworthy.

In a speech on Sunday, he said the opposition parties had "disappeared from the political map".

"A party that has not participated today and has called for the boycott of the elections can't participate anymore," he said.

In October, the three main opposition parties announced they would be boycotting Sunday's vote, saying it only served what they called President Maduro's dictatorship.

President Maduro says his party won more than 300 of the 335 mayoral races being contested. The election board put turn out at 47%.

Venezuela has been mired in a worsening economic crisis characterised by shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation.

Maduro divides and conquers

Katy Watson, BBC Latin America correspondent - Barquisimeto, Venezuela

Mr Maduro's pronouncement is designed to provoke the opposition. Especially since he justified the move saying it was a condition set out by the National Constituent Assembly - a body that the opposition refuses to recognise because they say it is undemocratic.

Mr Maduro has lost popularity because of the worsening economic crisis. In the face of criticism, his strategy has been one of "divide and conquer" - find ways of weakening the opposition to make them less of a threat.

And he hs succeeded - he has imprisoned some of the most popular opposition leaders like Leopoldo López. He has prevented others like Henrique Capriles from running for office. And now this threat - banning the most influential parties from taking part in future elections. The opposition is in crisis and Mr Maduro is gloating.

Mr Maduro said he was following the criteria set by the National Constituent Assembly in banning opposition parties from contesting next year's election.

But the assembly, which came into force in August and has the ability to rewrite the constitution, is made up exclusively of government loyalists. Opposition parties see it as a way for the president to cling to power.

The presidential vote had been scheduled for December 2018, but analysts say it could now be brought forward.

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Media captionYour video guide to the crisis gripping Venezuela

Venezuela, in the north of South America, is home to more than 30 million people. It has some of the world's largest oil deposits as well as huge quantities of coal and iron ore.

Despite its rich natural resources many Venezuelans live in poverty. This led President Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chávez, to style himself as a champion of the poor during his 14 years in office.

Now the country is starkly divided between supporters of President Maduro and those who want an end to the Socialist Party's 18 years in government.

Supporters of Mr Maduro say his party has lifted many people out of poverty, but critics say it has eroded Venezuela's democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy.

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