CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The pro-government constitutional assembly on Thursday ordered new gubernatorial election in Venezuela’s most populous state after the opposition politician who won the race was blocked from taking office.
When voters elected governors in the country’s 23 states two weeks ago, opposition candidate Juan Pablo Guanipa won the race in Zulia, but he has not been allowed to take the oath of office in his home state.
Before the election, socialist President Nicolas Maduro had warned that any winning candidate would be removed for not saying the oath before the constitutional assembly in the capital of Caracas.
Four of the five winning opposition candidates followed the order but Guanipa, with the backing of the opposition’s Democratic Unity alliance, refused to go along. He was repelled with tear gas as he and supporters this week tried to march to Zulia’s state legislature in protest.
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Guanipa’s removal is likely to add to tensions as Maduro seeks to consolidate his power after allies nearly swept gubernatorial elections that the opposition had been predicted to win amid triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages.
Guanipa said on Twitter that the ordering of a new election “ignores the people” and violates the constitution, which mandates that regional authorities should be sworn in by local legislatures.
The constitutional assembly was created following elections in July that were boycotted by the opposition, which saw it as a naked power grab by Maduro. With nearly unlimited powers to overhaul the state and remove officials at will, the assembly has been criticized by opposition leaders and dozens of foreign governments, including the United States and France.
The opposition has accused the government of rigging the gubernatorial votes but apathy among its supporters after months of unrest also depressed turnout for the regional elections.
Emboldened by the ruling party’s sweeping victory in the gubernatorial races, the constitutional assembly also voted Thursday to hold mayoral elections in December, without setting a date.