CARACAS—Venezuelas government-stacked Supreme Court earlier this week ordered the takeover of opposition leader, interim President Juan Guaidós political party, the latest in a series of moves against regime leader Nicolás Maduros critics ahead of upcoming legislative elections.
The decision removes Leopoldo López, the founder of Popular Will, as the partys official leader and names in his place a lawmaker kicked out of the organization last year amid accusations hed conspired with Maduro allies.
“Our fight continues on strongly,” López said in a series of tweets after the ruling. “In spite of all the danger and to the ultimate consequences.”
The decision comes less than a month after Venezuelas Supreme Court ordered the takeover of two other influential opposition parties and as Guaidós anti-Maduro movement has dipped in popularity and struggles to regain steam.
A new National Electoral Council–still tilted in Maduros favor–is pressing forward with plans to hold legislative elections in early December. The National Assembly is the only branch of government still dominated by the opposition. Many Maduro critics have indicated they will not participate, in belief the election will be rigged.
The electoral body recently released a list of the parties that will be permitted to run in the upcoming election–Popular Will not among them. The chief prosecutor, also a Maduro ally, has been urging the Supreme Court to declare the party a terrorist organization.
“They want to make it quite clear that Guaidó is history,” said Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Venezuelas opposition has floundered since drawing hundreds of thousands to the streets last year amidst widespread outrage over the oil-rich nations economic decline, mass migration, and Maduros tightening grip on power.
The socialist leader was re-elected in 2018 in a vote criticized by the opposition and much of the international community as unfair. Several of the oppositions most popular leaders were barred from running. Despite Maduros low approval rating, he has managed to cling to power and protests have largely fizzled, a result of a growing sense of apathy, disillusionment with the opposition, and fears of retribution.
López, Guaidós political mentor, was detained in 2014 for leading anti-government protests and sentenced to nearly 14 years in jail. In 2017, he was granted permission to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrest. Last year, security forces adhering to an order from Guaidó released Lopez, and shortly thereafter he appeared on a bridge with troops calling on the military to rise against Maduro.
The insurrection attempt failed and López sought refuge in the Spanish Embassy, where he has remained for more than a year since.
The government is likely to use the takeover of Popular Will and other opposition parties to provide a façade of democratic participation in the upcoming elections, Gunson said. Though the partys registration was revoked, the all-powerful Constitutional Assembly could pave the way for its inclusion in the upcoming elections with the newly appointed leadership.
Seeing the traditional opposition parties on the ballot–despite being filled with Maduro-aligned minority factions–could give voters without access to information a misleading idea of whom they are actually casting a ballot for.