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Maduro seeks second term in isolated, ruined Venezuela

AFP  |  Caracas 

Shrugging aside his country's economic ruin and growing international isolation, Venezuela's socialist seeks a second six-year term in controversial elections on Sunday that are being boycotted by the opposition.

Maduro's ebullient campaign meetings have done little to disguise a lack of enthusiasm in the oil-rich but cash-poor South American country, where the result is widely seen as a foregone conclusion.

He held his final rally on Bolivar Avenue in downtown on Thursday, enlisting former Argentine soccer star to fire-up the crowd.

Applauded by Maduro and his supporters, Maradona declared himself a Maduro "soldier," waved a Venezuelan flag and punched the air as he danced to loud reggaeton music on the stage.

"Trust me, if you give me your vote and give us victory, I swear I will lead great economic changes and drive an economic revolution that will shake the world," pledged Maduro.

The 55-year-old former wore a green shirt with the image of his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, emblazoned on the sleeve.

Maduro is the clear favorite, despite trailing in opinion polls to his main rival Henri Falcon, and a low approval rating among Venezuelans fed up with hyperinflation, and medicine shortages, rising crime and broken water, power and

"I'm not going to vote for anyone. I'm concerned with surviving every day and things are getting more and more screwed up," fruit seller Alexis Rodriguez, 40, told AFP. Opinion polls show Falcon leading with 30 percent of voter intentions, compared to Maduro's 20 percent. An evangelical candidate, Javier Bertucci, has 14 percent.

However, "low enthusiasm will likely reduce voter turnout and enable Maduro to control the outcome without major social backlash," said of

Maduro, with a tight grip on the electoral and military authorities, faces a bitterly divided opposition.

Falcon wore the yellow, blue and red of Venezuela's flag at his final rally in his western stronghold of

He told his supporters he had "faith" in overcoming the boycott, and "that we are going to vote massively, as our country needs." But he has failed to secure the endorsement of the main opposition leaders, who remain committed to boycotting the vote, and was unable to convince Bertucci to and unify what opposition voters there are.

"People have lost faith in protest and the vote, that's why there's apathy. The Venezuelan is bewildered and desperate. We are in the worst moment of the crisis and the country," said

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition, increasingly pinning its hopes for change on outside pressure forcing the socialists to remove Maduro, have won support from the US, EU and 14 countries of the Lima Group who have called for the vote to be postponed.

this week banned Venezuelan expatriates from voting in the election.

The powers accuse Maduro of undermining democracy, usurping the power of the opposition-dominated parliament by replacing it with his all-powerful Constituent Assembly, and cracking down on the opposition. Protests in 2017, still fresh in the collective memory, left around 125 dead.

The MUD's most popular leaders have been sidelined or detained, the boycott their only remaining weapon.

They accuse Maduro of luring supporters to vote on Sunday with rewards of boxes.

Maduro, meanwhile, continues his defiance in the face of increasing international isolation and US and EU sanctions.

"We will not give in to blackmail," he says. "We do not care if they do not recognize us.

The of is elected by the people, not " But despite Maduro's rhetoric and the world's largest reserves, the country faces ruin, with the IMF citing a drop of 45.0 percent in GDP since Maduro took over in 2013. The crippled industry lacks investment and its assets are increasingly prey to debt settlements as the country defaults.

And worse, the US threatens an embargo on top of sanctions that have hit Venezuela's efforts to renegotiate its debt.

"The most likely scenario is greater international isolation and economic deterioration," said of analysts.

"The key factors will be the economy and the army," said "The country is a powder keg and something could provoke unrest that would be difficult to contain.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, May 18 2018. 13:40 IST