Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC) has approved a proposal to hold presidential elections before April 30.
The move came a day after the European Union announced sanctions targeting seven Venezuelan senior state officials on January 22.
The proposal to bring forward the elections – scheduled for October – was moved by ANC delegate Diosdado Cabello, one of the officials hit by the sanctions.
Cabello said that "if the world wants to apply sanctions to us, we will apply elections."
The EU Foreign Affairs Council justified the sanctions by claiming that government functionaries "are involved in the non-respect of democratic principles or the rule of law as well as in the violation of human rights."
The Brussels-based body did not, however, provide evidence to bolster its accusations.
The move marks the first time that the EU has imposed direct sanctions on Venezuelan officials.
The new EU pressure follows on the heels of a fresh round of sanctions imposed by the US administration in early January.
Over the past year, Washington has rolled out round after round of sanctions against top Venezuelan officials, including President Nicolas Maduro himself, and prohibited US banks from refinancing Venezuelan debt.
Venezuela’s foreign ministry issued a statement on January 22 blasting the EU sanctions as “illegal”.
“These shameful actions violate the fundamental precepts of the United Nations Charter and attempt to exercise a vulgar interference in our country’s internal affairs,” the statement read.
“Today the European Union once again offers irrefutable proof of its obvious subordination to the racist and supremacist government of Donald Trump”.
Within hours of the Constituent Assembly announcing the snap poll, President Nicolas Maduro confirmed he would run for re-election as the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidate.
"Donald Trump is not the boss of Venezuela!" said Maduro, speaking at a rally that day. "The people rule in Venezuela, not empires. I'm ready... We're going to win big."
Opposition parties are planning to hold primaries to choose a unified presidential candidate. Two opposition leaders have already announced their presidential aspirations.
However, plans by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition to hold primaries could be complicated if hardliners decide to go ahead with a campaign to boycott the election.
Pressure for a boycott is already beginning to mount outside Venezuela.
Organization of American States (OAS) secretary general Luis Almagro took to Twitter on January 20 to claim that any elections would be fraudulent.
“It’s unacceptable that elections are held by a regime in the same way that they held the regional and municipal elections. It would mean six more years of the regime of Nicolas Maduro,” he declared.
Almagro was a harsh critic of the opposition’s decision to participate in the October 15 regional elections, which they lost by a landslide. The three largest opposition parties opted to boycott the December 10 municipal elections, leading to a sweep by the ruling PSUV.
No evidence has been presented, by Almagro or the MUD, to support their claims of fraud and the election results have been verified by international observers and independent analyses.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on January 24 that the Trump administration “strongly rejects the call … for snap presidential elections."
"This vote would be neither free nor fair… It would not reflect the will of the Venezuelan people, and would be seen as undemocratic and illegitimate in the eyes of the international community,” she declared.
[Compiled from Venezuela Analysis and TeleSUR English.]