Venezuela’s electoral council has set April 22 as the date for a controversial presidential election, which the opposition accuses President Nicolas Maduro of using to engineer a second term for himself.The head of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, made the announcement Wednesday after talks broke down between the government and opposition on setting a date for the polls.With the opposition coalition barred from fielding a candidate and several top Maduro critics banned, the deeply unpopular leftist president’s opponents accuse him of rigging the snap vote before it is even held.Venezuela was not due to hold a presidential election until December.But the Constituent Assembly — an all-powerful legislature stacked with Maduro loyalists — announced last month the date would be brought forward.It comes at a time when the opposition is reeling from Maduro’s attacks and its own internal divisions.Its umbrella coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), tried to negotiate a later date in talks with government officials in the Dominican Republic.But the dialogue broke down Wednesday, with Maduro refusing to budge from a draft deal on early elections that the opposition called unacceptable. “We implore the government not to commit the absurd mistake of calling elections unilaterally,” tweeted opposition delegate Julio Borges. The Supreme Court, which critics say systematically bows to Maduro, has barred the MUD from fielding a candidate under its banner, and blocked several prominent opposition figures from participating. The election will be held against a backdrop of economic and political crisis. The campaign will be held from April 2 to April 19, though the government has been holding rallies since the Constituent Assembly announced the elections would be moved up. The South American country, impoverished despite being a major oil producer, is suffering food and medicine shortages brought on by a recent period of low oil prices, declining production, and economic mismanagement. Published in Daily Times, February 9th2018.