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Who makes up Venezuela's political opposition?

Venezuela's opposition parties have been weakened in the South American country's ongoing political crisis. DW examines the motley MUD coalition, its leaders and their political goals.

Venezuela's socialist government and opposition representatives gathered in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday in a bid to restart negotiations to end the oil-rich country's debilitating economic and political crisis.

The preliminary talks are the first between President Nicolas Maduro's government and the opposition since Vatican-brokered negotiations broke down in December.

Since then, the opposition-controlled National Assembly has been stripped of its powers following the election of a Constituent Assembly in July to rewrite the constitution. Around 130 people have been killed in months of anti-Maduro protests leading up to the vote, which was boycotted by the opposition and widely criticized as dealing a death blow to democracy.

The talks in the Dominican Republic come as there is disunity within opposition ranks and frustration on the street over its inability to successfully challenge Maduro and resolve the country's economic crisis.

A failure to renew talks could lead to another round of violence and further persecution of the opposition, whose leading figures Maduro has threatened to try for "treason."

Read more: What's going on in Venezuela? 

Venezuela Nicolas Maduro (picture-alliance/AA/C. Becerra)

Maduro has threatened to try opposition figures for 'treason' - hundreds of political prisoners are incarcerated

Who are Venezuela's opposition?

Venezuela's opposition is huddled around the Democratic Unity Round Table (MUD). Launched in 2009, the motley umbrella group is composed of about 20 parties from the center-left, left, center and right-wing.

MUD took control of the National Assembly for the first time in January 2016, after elections the previous month brought the alliance 112 seats in the 167-seat body. Four parties - Democratic Action, Justice First, New Era and Popular Will – are the largest within MUD with 90 of the bloc's 112 seats. The MUD also holds governor and mayoral positions. 

One of the best-known opposition leaders is Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state and co-founder of the largest opposition party, Justice First. Capriles twice ran as the MUD candidate for president, losing to the Hugo Chavez in 2012 and again to Maduro by only 1.5 percent in a special election in 2013 following Chavez's death. The opposition claimed the vote was rigged.

Henrique Capriles

Capriles holds a copy of Venezuela's constitution in an April, 2017 press conference

In April, Capriles was banned from holding office for 15 years over allegations he misused state funds. Capriles is widely viewed as a top candidate to challenge Maduro in the 2018 presidential election. 

Popular Will leader Leopoldo Lopez represents a more activist and confrontational wing within the MUD. He is currently under house arrest after being released this summer from a military prison, where he served nearly three years of a 14-year sentence for inciting violence during anti-regime demonstrations in 2014. His supporters and rights organizations say the charges are politically motivated. 

A 2009 WikiLeaks cable from the US embassy in Caracas described Lopez as an "uncompromising" and "divisive figure within the opposition." However, he remains popular and is considered an astute organizer.

Leopoldo Lopez

Lopez is known for his charisma and brash style

What does the opposition want?

What unites the MUD is its opposition to Maduro. The bloc initially demanded a recall election for Maduro, but since he has tightened control its goals have changed according to the situation.

Among its current demands are restoring the power of the National Assembly, the release of hundreds of political prisoners, respecting the constitution and a timeline for gubernatorial elections this fall and presidential elections in 2018.

Internal divisions

The MUD has been divided over strategy, policy, engagement with the government and how far to take protests that have been marked by violence on all sides. Ever since the National Assembly was weakened earlier this year before being stripped of its powers, the MUD has increasingly transformed into a protest movement.

Mass demonstrations largely withered after the Constituent Assembly took over in August, with many people opting to find food and basic necessities rather than take to the streets.

Venezuela protests

The so-called Resistance, made up of disgruntled youth, led clashes with police during protests earlier this year

The failure of the MUD to reverse its fortunes has led to anger and disillusionment among protesters, and introspection within the coalition. There remains a danger that moderates in the bloc will lose control over the streets to forces that view violence as the best means to challenge Maduro. 

What's next?

The MUD plans to field candidates in planned October gubernatorial elections for all 23 states despite criticism from some within the opposition. The bloc argues that the elections offer a chance to deal a blow to Maduro. Opponents of participating view it as legitimizing a regime that has already shown a willingness to engage in electoral fraud. Earlier this month, Maduro said governors must "submit" to the Constituent Assembly or be dismissed.

Watch video 01:03

Hunger crisis hits Venezuela

 

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