Venezuela’s Maduro bars European election observers as he keeps falling behind in polls

Creating fresh doubts about the fairness and transparency of coming elections in Venezuela, the Nicolás Maduro regime this week decided to bar 100 observers from the European Union from monitoring the upcoming presidential vote, in a contest so clearly leaning in favor of the opposition that few believe the Venezuelan strongman can win without cheating.

The decision leaves the election set for July 28 with little in the way of independent monitoring. Most of the international observers that have so far been approved by the government-controlled National Electorate Council belong to groups that in the past have expressed some affinity for the socialist government in Caracas or have expressed fewer criticisms.

A possible exception is the U.S. based Carter Center, which is still on the list of observers that will be allowed to monitor the election.

Responding to the Venezuelan government’s announcement, the European Union said it “deeply regrets” Caracas’ decision

“The Venezuelan people should be able to elect their president in credible, transparent and competitive elections, supported by international observation, including that of the European Union, which has a long and distinguished record of independent and impartial observation,” the EU said in a press release posted on social media.

The Venezuelan government’s decision was announced Tuesday amid fresh evidence of the surging popularity of opposition presidential candidate Edmundo González Urrutia, who in a poll published on Tuesday by polling firm Meganalisis has a 50-point lead over Maduro, 61% to 10%.

The Venezuelan regime has been accused repeatedly of committing fraud during elections given the lack of independent controls inside the electoral council. More than 50 countries, led by the United States, declared the Caracas government as illegitimate after concluding that Maduro committed fraud in the 2018 presidential election.

The socialist regime, which disqualified the candidacy of popular opposition leader María Corina Machado, had allowed González to compete, betting that the unpopular Maduro would have a better chance of defeating someone who at the time was a little known former diplomat.

The situation quickly changed, however, after Machado and other opposition leaders united to back Gonzalez, who immediately became the election’s front runner. His original 20-point lead kept growing in the following days as the public became more familiar with Gonzalez.

The popularity gap between the two candidates has been easy to see at street level in recent days. While the rallies held by Gonzalez and Machado in different parts of the country have brought together tens of thousands of followers, the few gatherings held by Maduro under strict security measures have attracted just a few dozen supporters.

Gonzalez’s campaign said that the decision to ban EU observers diminishes the chances for holding a fair and transparent election, but stressed that it would not keep Venezuelans from expressing their desire for change at the polls.

“This decision will not prevent what we all know will happen on July 28, which is the resounding victory of change represented by the Unity candidate, Edmundo González Urrutia,” the opposition movement said in a statement.

“The regime resorts to this to avoid submitting to qualified international observation,” the campaign said, adding that it won’t keep Venezuelans from voting.

So far, the bulk of the observers accepted by the goverment-controlled electoral council to groups that in the past have shown sympathy towards the socialist government. They include representatives of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, an organization promoted by the late Hugo Chávez to counterbalance the Organization of American States; the Inter-American Union of Electoral Bodies and the bloc of Caribbean nations known as CARICOM.