Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela sets December election date

National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena speaks during a news conference in Caracas (22/06/2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The opposition had accused the electoral council of dragging its feet

The National Electoral Council in Venezuela says elections for the country's National Assembly will be held on 6 December.

Delays in setting a date had raised concerns the poll could be cancelled.

But the council's head, Tibisay Lucena, said that was never on the cards and denied the council had bowed to opposition demands.

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) of President Nicolas Maduro currently holds a majority of seats.

But recent polls suggest that if the election were held now, the opposition coalition would win in a landslide.

Venezuela's rampant crime, the drop in oil revenues and chronic shortages of basic goods have hurt President Maduro's approval ratings.

Ms Lucena announced that the official campaign period would run from 13 November to 3 December.

The opposition coalition - the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) - had accused election officials of dragging their feet because of the governing party's poor showing in opinion polls.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The governing PSUV has not lost its legislative majority since the late Hugo Chavez won the presidency 16 years ago.

One of the key demands of the imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, had been that the government set a date for elections and allow for them to be supervised by international observers.

Ms Lucena said the UNASUR group of countries, which is generally considered to be friendly towards the Venezuelan government, would be permitted to observe the polls.

On Tuesday, Mr Lopez ended his hunger strike and called on other protesters who had also been on hunger strike to do the same.

"The change now has a date," he said in a letter read out at a news conference by his wife Lilian Tintori.

He has been in jail for more than a year, accused of inciting violence during anti-government protests last year in which more 40 people died.

The opposition alleged widespread fraud in the 2013 presidential election in which Mr Maduro claimed a narrow victory. Mr Maduro repeatedly denied the allegations and the result was upheld after an audit by the electoral council.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Leopold Lopez had been on hunger strike to demand an election date and the release of all political prisoners

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