BIZARRO CARACAS — Venezuelan Comptroller General, Manuel Galindo, rocked the political scene once more, disqualifying a further batch of 37 MUD candidates to the Constituent Assembly election on Sunday.

The group, which includes 33 Primero Justicia candidates, faces allegations ranging from failure to pay child support to misappropriation of public funds during terms as Municipal Council members. One MUD hopeful was disqualified after he was found driving with an expired certificado médico at a routine traffic stops.

These latest disqualifications bring the total number of MUD Candidates disqualified since nominations closed in June to 194.

Galindo’s move rekindled the intense debate that took place in early May on whether to boycott the July 30th vote.

Among Galindo’s latest batch are both of MUD’s candidates for Los Teques. They join disqualified candidates from Chacao, El Hatillo and Sucre municipalities, creating the startling prospect that the Metropolitan Area of Caracas will not return a single opposition member of the Assembly.

With just eight days before voting day, analysts say there is no time to reprogram Venezuela’s outdated voting machines, suggesting votes for disqualified candidates will be null. However sources inside CNE say the board may not tally null votes separately from abstentions, to avoid generating a record of which candidates would have won in the absence of these disqualifications.

The move rekindled the intense debate that took place in early May on whether to boycott the July 30th vote or not. With polls showing MUD winning a generic ballot question by up to 3-to-1 margins, voices arguing it would be absurd to sit out an election they could easily win carried the day, sidelining radicals who argued that loaded election rules and the governments’ obvious lack of commitment to fair play made such polls meaningless.

The bitter debate at the end of May caused first open split in MUD, as radical parties Voluntad Popular, Alianza Bravo Pueblo and Vente Venezuela walked out and vowed to continue their fight on the street. The wave of arrests that followed at the on the night of May 30th saw David Smolansky, Freddy Guevara, Maria Corina Machado and Juan Guaidó taken in prison at El Helicoide, along with over 120 grassroots organizers. The protest movement they had led soon fizzled out, with remaining MUD leaders concentrating their time and resources on the July 30th elections.

As PSUV Constituent Assembly candidate Delcy Rodríguez stressed to international journalists on Friday, it remains mathematically possible for MUD to win an overall majority in the Assembly. “If they really had the votes they’d be out campaigning. But no, they have no pueblo, so they just whine that we discovered half their candidates were corrupt,” Rodríguez said.

An analysis by Eugenio Martínez, a well regarded local elections analysts, shows 172 of MUD’s disqualified candidates were set “puestos salidores” — urban municipalities where MUD was expected to cruise to victory. Without them, the possibility of a MUD majority is purely academic.

The disqualifications have been condemned worldwide. The European Union, Mercosur, the“We must fight for every democratic space available to us,” Rosales said, while Falcón underlined the dangers of a Constituent Assembly with no opposition representation at all.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro along with the the Foreign Ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Canada, Germany, Spain and Italy have strongly condemned them as a transparent attempt to tip the balance of power within the all-powerful Assembly.

The Trump administration, too, issued a strong statement on Thursday — setting off 48 hours of non-stop propaganda in state media against the imperialist aggression against the Venezuelan people’s sovereignty.

On Friday, in a joint press conference, MUD leaders Manuel Rosales and Henri Falcón strongly denounced Galindo’s decisions before pressing on with their campaigns. “We must fight for every democratic space available to us,” Rosales said, while Falcón underlined the dangers of a Constituent Assembly with no opposition representation at all.

Though Julio Borges, the Primero Justicia chairman of the soon-to-be-shuttered National Assembly is now calling for MUD to declare a boycott at this late stage, the dominance of moderates within the rump MUD, following the withdrawal of the more radical parties, makes such a move virtually impossible.

A call by Henrique Capriles for a street protest on Saturday brought out a few hundred protesters to Plaza Altamira who were quickly dispersed by the National Guard, as Interior Minister Nestor Reverol celebrated the 50th straight day without a significant protest following the late-May detentions.

From his SEBIN jail cell, El Hatillo mayor David Smolansky underscored that MUD had been warned about this outcome. “Failing to foresee that the government would do something like this,” Smolansky tweeted, “shows a catastrophic failure to learn the political lessons of the last four years.”

Local pollster Datanalisis now projects that MUD may score anywhere between 130 and 175 seats in the 545 seat Constituent Assembly, even though 3 in 4 poll respondents say they would never consider voting for a PSUV candidate.

“The rigged bases comiciales [the election rules] told MUD everything it needed to know about the government’s willingness to hold a genuinely competitive election,” said Francisco Toro, of the opposition-aligned site Caracas Chronicles. “MUD just walked into a trap designed to divide it and dial down the pressure from street protests.”

Delcy Rodríguez smiled broadly when asked at her press conference about the few remaining radical leaders not yet in detention who are now describing the entire Assembly a fraud.

“These will be the cleanest elections in Venezuela’s history,” Rodríguez said. “The hundreds of opposition candidates out there campaigning actively right now are the proof. There will always be a fascist fringe that calls every revolutionary victory a fraud just because they don’t have the people to take the fight to us. But history and the glorious pueblo de Bolívar will flatten them like a steamroller!”

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