CARACAS (Reuters) - Dancing in front of red-shirted supporters, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro formally signed up on Tuesday to run for re-election in an April vote opponents say is a farce that will consolidate his dictatorship.
Maduro, 55, whose main rivals are barred from standing against him, presented his candidacy at the national election board in Caracas before joining a rally of supporters.
“I will be loyal to the legacy of the giant Hugo Chavez!” he said, dancing reggaeton on stage with his wife Cilia Flores in front of a large banner showing his and Chavez’s faces.
Maduro narrowly won election after Chavez’s 2013 death from cancer, but has seen his popularity plunge during a punishing economic crisis for OPEC member Venezuela that has exposed the failure of government policies and worsened by the fall in global oil prices.
Maduro blames a U.S.-led “economic war”, including sanctions imposed last year by President Donald Trump, for the unprecedented recession that has left millions hungry, created widespread shortages and fueled a migration exodus.
Critics say incompetent policies, such as dysfunctional currency controls, and rampant graft are behind the crisis.
Venezuela’s opposition coalition is boycotting the April 22 vote, given its two most popular leaders - Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles - are prohibited from running, various parties have been outlawed, and the election board is pro-Maduro.
“Elections in these conditions will not solve anything,” the coalition said in a statement on Tuesday.
“They will close the only escape valve for national tensions and deepen the reasons making Venezuela ever more unlivable.”
In his speech, Maduro urged opponents not to be “cowards” and to stand against him, saying they were only boycotting the vote because they were scared of losing.
The most significant figure to have expressed an interest in running against Maduro is a former state governor, Henri Falcon, but by breaking with the opposition coalition to do that, he would find it tough to mount a serious challenge.
In his speech, Maduro called for the blessing of Jesus Christ, Chavez and Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar for his re-election campaign.
“I am the people’s president, the oligarchy have under-estimated me,” said Maduro, a former bus driver and union activist.
Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Vivian Sequera, Ana Isabel Martinez, Corina Pons; editing by Grant McCool