In Venezuela Rudderless opposition regroups in crisis

As spokesman for the MUD, he is one of the opposition's most visible faces, but not necessarily its most influential.

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Secretary general of the Venezuelan opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), Jesus Torrealba, is one of the opposition's most visible faces play

Secretary general of the Venezuelan opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), Jesus Torrealba, is one of the opposition's most visible faces

(AFP/File)
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Crisis-hit Venezuela's divided opposition relaunches fraught efforts on Thursday to oust Socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Despite presiding over an economic disaster that has led to food shortages and deadly riots, Maduro still has the upper hand, analysts say.

Here are five reasons his opponents have failed to turn popular discontent to their advantage in the year since they took control of the legislature.

Leaderless

The MUD vowed to hold Maduro to account for the shortages that have sparked deadly riots.

But citizens' hardship has only worsened this year, with soaring inflation and a shortage of banknotes.

"There were very high expectations that were not met" in 2016, Jesus Torrealba, secretary of the center right-led MUD coalition, admitted recently.

As spokesman for the MUD, he is one of the opposition's most visible faces, but not necessarily its most influential.

The broad coalition contains numerous parties whose leaders have disagreed with Torrealba and one other.

"The opposition has lacked a leadership strategy," Torrealba said.

Divided

Divisions in the opposition deepened after authorities in October blocked its efforts to hold a popular vote on removing Maduro.

Torrealba and others later agreed to Vatican-sponsored talks with the government.

But opposition figures such as jailed party leader Leopoldo Lopez branded that a ploy by Maduro to calm protests.

"These are not superficial divisions," said political analyst Luis Vicente Leon, president of the polling firm Datanalisis.

"Within the MUD there are structural differences between moderates and radicals over what path to take to deal with the problem of Maduro. And its leaders have conflicting interests."

Weak

Ordinary citizens may be struggling, but Maduro is still managing to pay the bills to keep himself in power.

He has the backing of the military high command. He retains the political loyalty of senior figures in the "Socialist revolution" launched by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

And so far his government has not defaulted on its debts to foreign creditors.

All this leaves the opposition "in a doubly difficult situation," said Leon.

"They are struggling against a force that holds economic, military and political power, and they are divided in doing so."

Maduro on Wednesday named a hardline former security minister as his new vice-president, Tareck El Assaimi.

He would take over as head of state if Maduro were by any chance removed from office this year.

Unpopular

Maduro's popularity has plunged in the crisis. But so has the opposition's.

A recent survey by Datanalisis showed nearly 80 percent of Venezuelans disapproved of Maduro's leadership.

But a study by consultancy Keller and Associates showed support for the opposition MUD coalition had fallen to just 38 percent.

On Thursday the opposition lawmakers who hold a majority in the legislature are due to name a new speaker and other congressional leaders.

They are also scheduled to announce a new strategy in their bid to censure Maduro for his handling of the crisis.

But since the opposition majority took over the assembly a year ago, its motions have been overruled by the president's allies in the Supreme Court.

Mistrustful

The opposition walked out of the talks last month, accusing the government of breaking its promises.

The government last week freed seven opposition leaders, but that does not appear to have saved the talks.

"These releases are a one-off," said political scientist Ricardo Sucre.

"They do not get to the root of the problem, which is a lack of trust" in the government. "That is why the (negotiation process) is dead."

Sucre said the opposition's only option for challenging Maduro's power now is by winning posts in local and regional elections this year.

Outgoing assembly speaker Henry Ramos Allup said it was "useless to negotiate with a dictatorship."

Ramos is due to be replaced as speaker on Thursday by the opposition's parliamentary group leader Julio Borges.

Borges has vowed to work for "unity" within the opposition.

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