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Home >> World
UPDATED: 15:53, December 04, 2005
Venezuela's Chavez says boycott won't spoil congressional vote
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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that an election boycott by several opposition parties would not affect the legitimacy of the country's congressional vote held on Sunday.

"There is no political crisis here," Chavez said in a speech delivered late Saturday, noting that many rival candidates had not officially withdrawn and figures showed the boycott is a political stunt by a few parties that have seen falling popularity.

Decrying calls for a boycott as a "big lie" to try to destabilize his government, Chevez urged all Venezuelans to go to the polls.

He cited figures from the National Electoral Council that 556 out of more than 5,500 candidates pulled out of the race.

Elections officials also said that only 10 percent of Venezuelan congressional candidates formally withdrew from the race. But opposition parties have said they won't participate because they don't believe conditions are in place for a fair vote.

Chavez has in recent days repeatedly accused some opposition parties of staging a US-backed conspiracy through the boycott. The US government has denied involvement.

Chavez also accused the "imperialist" US government, with which he often clashes, of being behind the boycott by some of the opposition parties.

Government officials say the US has been meddling in the elections through the vote monitoring group Sumate, which receives money from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, a private group funded by the US Congress.

Earlier, Sumate had issued a call for Venezuelans to go to church on Sunday, urging them in a statement to pray for "transparency and the truth,"and leaving it up to voters whether they want to vote.

Chavez has long been an ally of Cuba and one of Washington's fiercest critics.

Polls showed that Chavez is Venezuela's most popular leader and the opposition boycott could hand lawmakers supporting him the majority.

Shortly after Chavez was elected, Venezuelans voted in 1999 to approve a new constitution that lengthened the presidential term from five to six years and allowed standing presidents to run for one re-election.

While supporters praise his reforms for combating years of corruption and neglect of the poor, critics say Chavez has eroded democracy by controlling the courts and electoral authorities.

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