At least 19 European governments have recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president after a deadline given to President Nicolas Maduro to call elections expired earlier this week.
But as Maduro fought to stay in power, he offered an alternative to the elections that the opposition demanded.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters and uniformed members of the Bolivarian militia along Avenida Bolivar in Caracas over the weekend, Maduro said he was willing to bring forward the elections but for the National Assembly, which is the opposition-controlled legislature.
“I agree that the legislature should be re-legitimised by the country and that we hold free elections with guarantees and may the people decide on the national assembly,” said Maduro.
With tens of thousands of anti-Maduro protesters taking to the streets to demand his resignation, the embattled president appeared to be directing his words at his own dwindling constituency, to show them that he is willing to make concessions, or at least give them an alternative narrative.
“If they want elections, we’ll give them elections” was what a top-ranking government official said, refusing to be named.
This is anything but a serious offer to the opposition, which already controls the legislature. The 2015 National Assembly elections were widely seen by the opposition, and most international observers, as the last in which electoral guarantees were at least viable.
But no sooner did opponents win the majority, the Supreme Court, controlled by Maduro, stripped the National Assembly of all power. He then created an alternative body – the Constituent Assembly – to legislate.
The Constituent Assembly and subsequent presidential elections, also organised by the government-controlled Electoral Council, were declared a farce by the opposition, which largely boycotted the presidential poll.
The principal opposition parties had been barred from running, along with Maduro’s most competitive opponents.
The elections were not recognised as legitimate by the United States and many of Venezuela’s neighbours amid widespread allegations of irregularities, lack of transparency and manipulation of the vote tally.
Any new elections under the supervision of the same electoral council would surely prompt outrage.
“Even if we had new National Assembly elections, what would stop Maduro from castrating the legislature again if he lost, which he would. The idea is a joke,” said government opponent Yusleidis Rodriguez.