CARACAS (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Monday accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of “illegally” installing a new national electoral council to oversee parliamentary elections due to take place later this year.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which is dominated by Maduro loyalists, named the council last week. Opposition leader Juan Guaido called the electoral body “false” and said the opposition would not recognize it.
Venezuela’s constitution grants the power to appoint electoral council members to the National Assembly, which Guaido leads, but the Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had failed to do so.
The United States and most other Western countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader, though Maduro still controls the state.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a statement, said Maduro was manipulating Venezuela’s constitution and the new council would fail to implement the conditions required to hold free and fair elections.
“Without following this process, elections that represent the will of the people are impossible,” Pompeo said. “This step by the regime and its Supreme Court takes Venezuela even further away from a democratic transition.”
In a statement late on Sunday, Guaido’s opposition coalition said the conditions did not exist for elections to take place guaranteeing transparency, trust and public freedoms, including a “trustworthy” election council.
The new council held its first session on Monday, state television showed, though it did not give any details on the upcoming electoral process.
The supreme court on Monday night issued a ruling that named new leaders to opposition party Democratic Action, a move the opposition denounced as an effort to cripple Maduro’s adversaries in the upcoming vote.
“This reveals the regime’s plan to appropriate the … symbols and logos of the democratic forces to legitimize their electoral show,” Guaido’s press office wrote via Twitter.
(Reporting by Angus Berwick; Editing by Brian Ellsworth, Paul Simao, Rosalba O’Brien and Michael Perry)