Venezuela sets date for regional elections as opposition weighs participation

FILE PHOTO: Pedro Calzadilla, new director of the National Electoral Council, is seen at the end of the extraordinary session of the National Assembly of Venezuela in Caracas, Venezuela May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan Electoral Council President Pedro Calzadilla said on Thursday that the country would hold regional and local elections on Nov. 21, despite the opposition's call this week for presidential and parliamentary votes as well.

The mayoral and gubernatorial elections will be the first overseen by the new council, named earlier this month, which includes three members linked to President Nicolas Maduro's ruling Socialist Party and two members close to the opposition. Previous boards had been made up solely of Maduro loyalists.

The naming of the new board prompted some opposition politicians to advocate for participating in the elections, after boycotting presidential and parliamentary elections in recent years on the grounds that the conditions were not free and fair.

"This (electoral council) is the result of a national dialogue," Calzadilla said. "It is with active and hopeful electoral participation that the Venezuelan people have expressed their clear mandate. Our differences should be resolved peacefully."

But opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and most Western democracies as Venezuela's legitimate president, said this week the South American country should hold presidential and parliamentary elections as well, and proposed that the United States progressively lift sanctions should Maduro agree..

Guaido and Washington label Maduro a dictator who rigged his 2018 re-election and abuses his power to stifle dissent. Maduro argues the opposition is seeking to oust him in a coup, and points to its decision to boycott elections as evidence of their lack of commitment to democracy.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Mayela Armas; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)

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