Venezuela's election board on Thursday banned advertisements by a small political party whose slogans mimic the main opposition coalition in what critics say is part of a campaign by the government to tilt next month's parliamentary election.
President Nicolas Maduro has said the Dec. 6 vote for a new National Assembly is the toughest the socialists have faced in their 17-year rule. The opposition believes the poll may mark the beginning of the end for the governing "Chavismo" movement.
Controversy has swirled for weeks around the MIN Unity party, whose name, symbols and slogans are similar to the opposition coalition Democratic Unity, which says it is an obvious attempt to confuse voters.
Although its campaign slogan is "We are the opposition," MIN Unity's best-known candidate is a Socialist Party legislator.
In one district, a parking attendant with no evident political experience - but the same name as the opposition incumbent Ismael Garcia - is on the MIN Unity ticket.
"It would seem some political organizations intended to generate confusion," election board member Luis Rondon said. "This action violates legislation in article 75 of the Electoral Law prohibiting the use of symbols or colors of other organizations without their authorization."
The decision will not affect the ballot, which in some states features the MIN Unity candidates next to opposition coalition candidates who will run under the banner "MUD Unity."
Once part of the opposition coalition, MIN Unity was kicked out in August. Opposition leaders suspected it had become a pawn of the government in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that ordered it to replace its leaders.
Pablo Medina, whom MIN Unity is backing as a candidate in Caracas, said the party would respond to the measure on Friday.
"There is a shady deal against us cooked up by the election board and the Democratic Unity coalition," he told Reuters.
Critics accuse the government of skewing the election playing field by shuffling districts, naming voting centers after former leader Hugo Chavez, and using state resources for publicity and mobilization.
The government denies any election manipulation and in turn accuses the opposition of plotting violence.