Archbishop Diego Padrón of Cumaná, former president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, denounced plans to advance presidential elections in the country by more than seven months.
“In any country in the world, democracy operates with clarity, with transparency. Instead, [this] is a midnight ambush,” the archbishop told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language sister agency, Jan 24.
The country’s National Constituent Assembly issued a decree on Jan. 23 to move up the elections that are usually held in December to no later than April 30, a measure that was “approved by acclamation” according to Delcy Rodriguez, the president of the assembly.
The Archbishop of Cumaná said that “as a Venezuelan, it is my opinion that moving up the date for elections has no legal basis.”
He added that the National Constituent Assembly “is very discredited because it is fraudulent in its origin and how it is run.”
Venezuela is currently in the midst of a severe economic crisis, with hyperinflation and chronic shortages of food and medicine.
The country’s socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while the items are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates. The International Monetary Fund has forecasted an inflation rate of 2,300 percent in Venezuela in 2018.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro is due to run for re-election this year, as his term ends in 2019.
Last July, contested elections led to the formation of a National Constituent Assembly, which has superseded the authority of the National Assembly, Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature.
Mass protests against the Constituent Assembly were held, in which more than 120 people were killed by security forces.
Following the decree from the National Constituent Assembly, President Maduro asked the Board of Elections to set the closest day possible for voting, saying, “We're going to get this over with as soon as possible.”
Maduro also said that the elections will be held with or without the opposition.
According to the BBC, it is unknown whether any opposition candidate will run since the main leaders, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez, have been disqualified from running for office.
Capriles was banned from running for office for 15 years by the Comptroller General's Office for alleged irregularities in the state of Miranda where he was governor, the Associated Press reported last April.
In September 2015, El Confidencial news reported that Lopez was sentenced to 14 years in military prison for allegedly inciting violence at an anti-government demonstration the previous year.
Moving up the date of the election has been rejected by the Venezuelan opposition and the “Lima Group,” a coalition which is comprised of representatives from 14 countries of the Americas.
Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Mu√±oz read a statement on the matter emphasizing that “this decision makes it impossible to hold democratic, transparent and credible presidential elections.”
The text of the statement was approved by delegates from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Santa Lucía.
“We demand that the presidential elections be held with enough time to properly prepare for participation by all Venezuelan political actors and with all the corresponding guarantees,” the text adds.
This article was originally published by ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.