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Lula Calls on Ally Maduro to Hold Fair Elections in Venezuela

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called on the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro to hold a fair presidential election in July, saying there was no explanation for the exclusion of an opposition candidate who was unable to register for the race this week.

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“It is serious that the candidate could not be registered,” Lula said Thursday during a press conference alongside France President Emmanuel Macron in Brasilia. “I want the elections to be held just like we do in Brazil: with everyone’s participation. Anyone who wants to participate, participates. Whoever loses, cries. Whoever wins, laughs. And so democracy continues.”

The comments largely echoed a statement Brazil’s foreign ministry released after opposition candidate Corina Yoris suggested that the government had prevented the coalition from officially entering her name into the race before the official registration deadline passed.

But they are the strongest and most direct rebuke Lula has offered of his longtime ally Maduro, who has faced mounting international backlash over the election issues. The problems are among the government’s latest violations of the Barbados Agreement, a deal meant to pave the way for democratic elections in exchange for the removal of some US sanctions on Venezuela.

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The leftist Lula said he told Maduro in a recent meeting to hold elections free from issues that could further erode international trust in Venezuela.

“I said that the most important thing to restore normality in Venezuela was to have no problems in the electoral process, that the election be held in the most democratic way possible,” Lula said. “It is important for Venezuela to return to the world with normality.”

Macron, who casts himself as a global leader capable of talking to opposing sides across the world, has sought Lula’s support for his own engagements in the crisis: France has previously held talks between representatives from Maduro’s government and the Venezuelan opposition.

He joined the criticism of Maduro while also saying that Lula can play a “prominent” role in finding a solution.

“The framework that these elections are taking place under cannot be considered democratic,” Macron said. “We will do everything we can to convince President Maduro and the system to reinstate all candidates and have more transparent elections.”

Lula had previously drawn criticism from Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, after he urged the coalition to stop “crying” and pick a new candidate when she was barred from participating in the election — as his party had in the wake of his arrest ahead of Brazil’s 2018 contest.

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The opposition eventually picked Yoris to replace Machado on the ballot. Her inability to register has led to the entry of other opposition candidates, threatening to split the coalition ahead of the vote.

Venezuela’s opposition said it considered the blocking of Yoris’s registration at least Maduro’s eighth violation of the Barbados Agreement since it was reached last year. Machado has called on other nations to step up their pressure.

“The international community says that they want free, clean elections, that they support the Barbados Agreement,” she said last week, after the government issued arrest warrants for nine members of her campaign team. “From the international community, we expect much more than good wishes.”

--With assistance from Beatriz Reis.

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