Venezuelan presidential challenger says could pull out of race

Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate, Henri Falcon (R), of the Avanzada Progresista party, speaks with the general secretary of the party, Luis Romero, before offering a press conference in Caracas on March 9, 2018.<br />Henri Falcon, the main opponent to unpopular President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela’s upcoming presidential election, is in the unusual position of being unloved by both Maduro’s ruling socialists and the main opposition alike. / AFP PHOTO / Federico PARRA

The main challenger in Venezuela’s presidential election said in an interview published Saturday he could pull out of the race if incumbent Nicolas Maduro — who is seeking a second six-year term — does not meet his demands for international observers to monitor the vote.

Henri Falcon, 56, is a member of Venezuela’s opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, but has defied their call to boycott the May 20 vote, throwing his own hat into the ring instead.

“We hope this election will be placed under international observation that is much more consistent” than the vote in 2015, Falcon told the Spanish daily El Pais in an interview.

“I’ll be going to the UN soon to talk with Secretary General Antonio Guterres. We’re demanding the presence of a delegation from the European Union to the country’s electoral authorities,” he said.

If his demands were not met, “we will pull out,” the politician said, insisting that “it’s the government itself that has most interest in these conditions being met.”

The interview carried the headline: “If Maduro doesn’t meet the conditions, I’ll pull out.”

In February, Venezuela’s opposition said it would not participate in the vote without guarantees that it would be free and fair.

“Do not count on the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), or the people, to endorse what until now is only a fraudulent and illegitimate simulation of the presidential election,” opposition coordinator Angel Oropeza said at the time.

The opposition has accused Maduro of engineering a second term for himself by bringing forward the election from December.

Among the opposition’s main demands is that the election takes place in the “second half of 2018,” that it be held under the auspices of a “balanced” National Electoral Council, and in the presence of independent international observers to monitor the polls.

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