CARACAS (REUTERS) - Venezuelan opposition leaders on Friday (Jan 26) condemned the sidelining of their coalition from upcoming presidential elections, saying it was trickery by President Nicolas Maduro's administration to rig the vote in its favour.
The pro-Maduro Supreme Court's move late on Thursday to exclude the coalition from registering in the vote placed yet another obstacle ahead of the already disparate opposition.
The vote is due by April 30, however, the opposition's most popular leaders, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles, are already banned from standing.
Critics say Mr Maduro is depriving Venezuelans of a free and fair election during an unprecedented economic implosion.
"This demonstrates the fear felt by Maduro of the people," opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez said on Thursday.
International pressure is also piling on the government.
The United States said this week that the vote will "deepen, not help resolve, national tensions," and Vice President Mike Pence called Mr Maduro a "dictator."
Thursday's ruling said the coalition violated the principle of avoiding "double affiliation" in politics and therefore could not be validated.
Critics see that as baseless, and the opposition is discussing its next move.
"If the opposition opts to participate, it risks legitimising (an election) process that has already been questioned by the international community," said IHS analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos.
"However, if the opposition chooses not to contest the elections, Maduro will be enabled to straightforwardly extend his mandate for a new six-year presidential term."