Venezuela’s top court has excluded the opposition coalition from the upcoming presidential election, a move that virtually ensures that unpopular leftist president Nicolas Maduro will win another term.
Registration of parties and candidates to run in the election was slated to happen this weekend.
The Supreme Court, however, told the national election council late Thursday to delay registration for six months.
The court did not give a reason for its ruling.
The presidential election will be held by the end of April. The election had originally been scheduled for December.
The Constituent Assembly unanimously approved the new election timetable Tuesday as the ruling Socialist Party attempts to consolidate its power, even in the midst of Venezuela’s massive economic woes.
The United States has strongly rejected the assembly’s call for the snap presidential vote.
Before the Supreme Court ruling, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert reaffirmed the U.S. position Thursday, saying, “This vote would be neither free nor fair. It would only deepen, not help resolve, national tensions. It would not reflect the will of the Venezuelan people, and would be seen as undemocratic and illegitimate in the eyes of the international community. We call on the Maduro regime to respect the human rights of all of its citizens, and to return to democratic constitutional order.”
Representatives of both the Venezuelan government and the opposition have been negotiating under international auspices in the Dominican Republic, to try to agree on a framework for fair elections.
No agreement has been reached in those talks, as a senior State Department official explained to reporters: “The decision by the illegitimate Constituent Assembly to convene snap elections, even as negotiations between the opposition and the majority regime are under way, undermines those talks, undermines the ability for the Venezuelan people themselves to meaningfully participate in addressing the multiple crises that have been caused by the Maduro regime.”
Asked if further sanctions against Venezuela are being considered, a senior State Department official said they are always under consideration.
The election maneuvering comes as Venezuela is experiencing a deep economic crisis. The French news agency reports that inflation this year is expected to reach 13,000 percent.
Under Maduro, the country’s money has become nearly worthless and prices for consumer products have soared. There are widespread food and medicine shortages, with many Venezuelans left malnourished.
Venezuela has refused to acknowledge the hunger and malnutrition problem, and has refused all international humanitarian assistance. But a majority of the country’s 30 million people say they are skipping meals because of a lack of food, and some 500,000 people have left the country over the past two years.
VOA's Cindy Saine contributed to this report.