Venezuela heading for Cuba-style vote: opposition

Venezuelan opposition leaders said Thursday the country is heading toward Cuban-style elections, with no real challengers to the ruling party, thanks to burdensome new rules governing how parties renew their registration.

The new rules, announced this week, set up a challenging series of hoops for parties to jump through in order to participate in this year's regional vote, which has not yet been scheduled.

President Nicolas Maduro's United Socialist Party is exempt, as is the main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), since both won more than one percent of the vote in the past two elections.

But the catch, for the MUD, is that it is not in fact a single party: It is a coalition of some 30 parties, each of which will have to go through the renewal process.

Under the new rules, that means gathering signatures from 0.5 percent of voters in at least half the country's 24 states, in just 14 hours -- roughly half a million people, in a country with some 20 million registered voters. Signatories will have to prove their identity with fingerprint scans -- with only 390 scanners set up for the process.

That, say opposition leaders, is an all but impossible set of constraints. "They're trying to fraudulently set up elections with no challengers," the MUD said. "They want to turn the Venezuelan electoral system into a copy of the Cuban or Nicaraguan electoral system... in which people can vote, but not choose."

Recent polls indicate 80 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of Maduro. That is why the president needs to "take the MUD out of the game because, right now, the opposition would win any election" according to political scientist Luis Salamanca.