CARACAS - Venezuela's opposition said on Friday the pro-government election board was seeking to skew regional elections in favor of President Nicolas Maduro's ruling socialists by including the names of candidates defeated in primaries on the ballot.
After street protests that led to at least 125 deaths and failed to dislodge Maduro earlier in the year, the opposition has shifted its focus to Oct. 15 elections for the governors of Venezuela's 23 states.
The socialists currently hold 20 states, but a crushing economic crisis has dented their popularity and the opposition now has majority support, polls show.
The Democratic Unity coalition is targeting winning 18 governorships, but fears a confusing electronic ballot sheet could hurt its vote.
Despite opposition primaries to choose a single candidate per state from the several dozen parties in the coalition, the election board is keeping all the original aspirants' names on.
So instead of seeing one opposition candidate versus one Socialist Party candidate, voters will see various faces of opposition candidates, potentially causing confusion and diluting the vote to the benefit of the government.
"That's the fraud the government wants to commit," coalition official Tomas Guanipa told a news conference of the election board's stance, which was ratified by the similarly pro-Maduro Supreme Court on Thursday. "We invite all Venezuelans who can see how the government is trying to mock them and put up obstacles, to come out and vote massively for the unity candidate in the states. The government's tricks will become a boomerang."
Election board officials did not respond to accusations of bias, but said the ballot was now set and would not be changed.
Government officials have said the rules are fair, and the opposition is simply seeking to justify possible violent actions after the vote.
While the opposition wants the Oct. 15 vote to demonstrate Maduro's unpopularity and undermine his power at regional level, the government is trumpeting the election as proof against growing criticism Venezuela has become a dictatorship.