Venezuela opposition parties fear election ban as Socialists dig in

CARACAS - Venezuela's government is pushing forward with measures that could exclude some opposition political parties from future elections, potentially paving the way for the ruling Socialists to remain in power despite widespread anger over the country's collapsing economy.
The Supreme Court, loyal to socialist president Nicolas Maduro, has ordered the main opposition parties to "renew" themselves through petition drives whose conditions are so strict that party leaders and even an election official described them as impossible to meet.
Socialist Party officials scoff at the complaints. They say anti-Maduro candidates would be able to run under the opposition's Democratic Unity coalition, which has been exempted from the signature drives, even if the main opposition parties are ultimately barred.
But key socialist officials are also trying to have the coalition banned, accusing it of electoral fraud. Government critics point to this and the "renewal" order as signs the socialists are seeking to effectively run uncontested in gubernatorial elections and the 2018 presidential vote.
Investors holding Venezuela's high-yielding bonds had broadly expected Maduro to be replaced with a more market-friendly government by 2019.
The prospect of opposition parties being blocked from elections could raise concern in Washington where the Trump administration this week blacklisted Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami and called for the release of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
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