Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg

Venezuelan Opposition Eyes Presidential Vote in First Half of 2018

  • Last proposal in ongoing talks was to hold elections on July 8
  • Next roud of negotiations begin Thursday in Santo Domingo

Venezuela’s opposition coalition in ongoing negotiations with the socialist government is proposing that presidential elections be held in the first half of 2018, according to a person directly involved in the discussions.

Official talks between the administration of President Nicolas Maduro and its adversaries resume Thursday in the Dominican Republic, where the international community is trying to help resolve a bitter standoff that has often turned violent and cost hundreds of lives. Previous attempts at dialogue have yet to yield any concrete results even as hyperinflation and barren store shelves leave thousands of Venezuelans going hungry.

The opposition’s top demand in the two-day meeting is establishing conditions for a free and fair presidential election, following widespread accusations of government fraud in votes last year. Initially, the opposition requested the elections be held in October, but moved the date up to July 8 in the last round of talks, given the gravity of Venezuela’s crisis and their desire to achieve change within the first six months of the year, according to one of the negotiators.

Read more: Maduro, Opposition Spar as Store Shelves Go Empty: QuickTake

Many Venezuelans remain skeptical that any breakthrough can be reached, and some observers suspect that Maduro is using negotiations simply to buy time. But strapped for cash and sytmied by U.S. sanctions that bar the way to obtaining any fresh financing, the government is under increasing pressure to shore up support as it looks to restructure its massive foreign debts.

A spokesperson from Venezuela’s Information Ministry declined to comment on the opposition’s demands in the ongoing discussions.

But before a date can be set, a series of preconditions must be met, according to multiple advisers to opposition negotiators. Specifically, the opposition is requiring that major political parties -- which were disqualified from presidential elections after boycotting last year’s mayoral balloting -- be allowed to take part in the vote. They are also demanding that new leadership be named to the country’s electoral board as well as establishing voting conditions for Venezuela’s growing diaspora. Additionally, they want the government’s to accept international aid to address to nation’s grinding humanitarian crisis.

For its part, the government has made clear that it cannot ink any agreement or hold elections as long as sanctions stand. Jorge Rodriguez, Venezuela’s information minister and head of the government delegation, said last month that a deal was contingent upon ending “the vulgar sanctions the Venezuelan right wing’s leadership requested of Donald Trump’s Treasury Department as well as Spanish, Canadian and other authorities.”

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