CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s government has agreed to delay presidential elections by a month as part of a last-minute deal with a few of the political parties seeking to unseat President Nicolas Maduro, despite a U.S.-supported boycott of the race by the main opposition coalition.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the accord was hammered out during several days of secret negotiations with members of the opposition, including some whose parties have so far refused to participate.
The accord, which is subject to approval by electoral authorities, would reschedule the election for the second half of May to give candidates more time to campaign, allow millions of Venezuelan exiles to register to vote abroad and pave the way for a jointly proposed team of electoral observers from the United Nations.
As part of the deal, long-overdue elections for city councils and state legislatures would now also be held on the same day.
“Venezuela is sending a powerful message to the world that we want to settle our differences in peace, by voting,” said Rodriguez.
The accord was signed by three smaller parties that broke off from the Democratic Unity coalition’s call for a boycott and have thrown their support behind the independent candidacy of Henri Falcon, a former backer of the late President Hugo Chavez.
With a deadline looming Thursday for parties to nominate candidates, Falcon has emerged as Maduro’s strongest challenger.
But he lacks the support of the opposition coalition, which has vowed to boycott the election unless the government moves to ensure fairness. One demand has been delaying the vote.
It remains to be seen if the more limited concessions made Thursday by the government will be enough to convince the coalition to reverse course. Rodriguez alleged that many are taking orders from the Trump administration not to compete.
“It matters more what Mr. Robinson says than millions of Venezuelan voters,” he said, referring to Todd Robinson, the new, outspoken top U.S. diplomat in Caracas.
The U.S. has sanctioned dozens of top officials, including Maduro himself, and has called the snap election further proof of the president’s intention to dismantle Venezuela’s democracy. Traditionally, presidential elections in Venezuela have taken place in the final three months of the year.
While polls show Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame Maduro for hardships brought on by four-digit inflation and widespread shortages, few opponents believe that voting will be fair. The ruling socialist party dominates almost all state institutions, including the national electoral council.
The proposed U.N. electoral mission, if accepted, could help boost voters’ confidence the contest will be fair. The U.N. has yet to decide whether to send a mission and it wasn’t clear whether the government would commit to giving electoral observers the freedom to carry out an audit of the electoral process.
“This accord doesn’t guarantee the government won’t cheat,” said Jesus Seguias, president of local pollster DatinCorp. “But it could generate enough confidence for Venezuelans to come out and vote.”
AP Reporters Fabiola Sanchez, Scott Smith, and Jorge Rueda contributed to this report