CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan hardline opposition leader Maria Corina Machado on Wednesday vowed she would run for parliament despite a one-year ban on her holding public office, which she said was a ploy by the government to avoid defeat in December’s vote.
The comptroller’s office has barred Machado, a candidate in the central Miranda state who is a high-profile adversary of the administration of President Nicolas Maduro, on grounds she failed to disclose certain social benefits in her wealth declaration.
Scoffing at the accusations, Machado accused Maduro and a “complicit” comptroller of sidelining her ahead of the Dec. 6 vote, which polls show the ruling socialists are poised to lose.
“I repeat to the illegitimate comptroller who doesn’t have the power to ban me, and I tell Mr. Maduro ... that I will run for the National Assembly,” Machado said at a press conference, flanked by cheering supporters waving Venezuelan flags and banners.
“In its agony, this regime is seeking to hold on to power. ... We’re living the most corrupt and dishonest electoral process in our history,” added Machado, who has about two weeks to appeal the decision on the ban.
Comptroller Manuel Galindo on Wednesday confirmed the ban, which Machado first publicized via Twitter a day earlier.
“Anti-corruption laws consider (omissions in wealth declarations) an inconsistency, or a concealment which quickly and without any (legal) process results in an administrative ban for 12 months,” Galindo told state television.
Disqualifying Machado has fanned fears over the fairness of this year’s elections, which come as a severe economic crisis batters the “Chavismo” movement founded by late leader Hugo Chavez.
“Very concerned over exclusion of Maria Corina Machado from public office for a year,” tweeted Roberta Jacobson, the United States’ assistant secretary of State for Western hemisphere affairs.
“Inclusiveness and a level playing field are key for free, fair elections in #Venezuela.”
Daniel Ceballos, a jailed former mayor who is also running for parliament, was similarly banned from holding public office.
The MUD opposition coalition also cried foul after the electoral board mandated a minimum of 40 percent of candidates be women a month after the bloc held its primaries.
Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Leslie Adler