In a move that critics believe will help Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the ballot box, the nation's top court changed the leadership of two political parties this week. The Supreme Court decisions came just before a Monday deadline for political parties to decide which candidates they’ll back for president.
Both political parties once backed Chavez but have turned away with time, the Associated Press reported, making the question of who leads them important. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles slammed the court rulings (all links in Spanish) as politically tainted.
“Only the desperate resort to legal tricks!” Capriles declared Thursday on Twitter after the second decision was announced.
Chavez has repeatedly dismissed accusations of meddling in the courts in the past. The court decisions are the latest twist in a race splotched with accusations of rigged polls and shadowed by questions about the president's health.
The Patria Para Todos party will now be led by Rafael Uzcategui, who told Venezuelan media after the decision that the party would not back Capriles. The court voided earlier elections within the political party in its decision Wednesday.
The Podemos party will be led by Didalco Bolivar, a former governor who has expressed support for Chavez after an earlier split. The court said Thursday it needed to review an earlier decision challenged by Bolivar, putting him in charge while it undertook its review.
Ismael Garcia, an established leader of Podemos, rejected the decision as a purely political move. In a fiery speech directed to Chavez, Garcia argued, “You’re the one who is afraid, because you know that you’re going to lose the election,” the Venezuelan daily El Nacional reported.
Chavez will face Capriles at the polls in October, hoping to extend his 13 years in power. His focus on the poor has won Chavez popularity, but Capriles argues that the outspoken president has failed to stem crime and fueled divisions with his aggressive rhetoric.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles gestures as he delivers a speech during a ceremony in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday. Credit: Ariana Cubillos / Associated Press