CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's Supreme Court has issued decisions shaking up the leadership of two small political parties, potentially preventing them from backing opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.
The court's decisions, which call for immediate changes to the leadership of the parties Podemos and PPT, drew a sharp rebuke on Friday from one prominent party leader as well as criticism by the opposition.
Ismael Garcia, who was pushed aside as leader of Podemos, blamed President Hugo Chavez for the court's actions.
"The government isn't going to expropriate us," Garcia said in a televised speech as supporters cheered, saying party members still back Capriles regardless of the court's ruling.
Capriles condemned the legal decisions, saying that Chavez's government is resorting to desperate tactics to keep the two parties from supporting his candidacy. Both used to be pro-Chavez but have moved to the opposition.
Chavez's critics have repeatedly accused the president of wielding undue influence over the judiciary and using it to go after his adversaries. Chavez has denied those accusations.
"They're judicial tricks, the use of power to politically favor one option," Capriles said Friday in an interview with the TV channel Venevision. "Why does the court have to be deciding on organizations and political parties?"
In the case of Podemos, Capriles said, "in the end the decision is to prohibit them from nominating Capriles as candidate for president. That was the only objective of that decision."
Capriles had said Thursday on Twitter that most members of the two parties will remain with him regardless of the decisions.
The Supreme Court said in a statement on its website Thursday that it had decided to recognize former pro-Chavez state governor Didalco Bolivar as the leader of Podemos, rather than established leader Garcia, a vocal government critic.
A similar ruling in the case of PPT was announced by the court on Wednesday. It voided the party's most recent internal elections, which were carried out in October, and ordered it to hold new elections within 90 days.
The decisions could prevent the parties from backing Capriles before a Monday deadline for parties to specify the presidential candidate they will support.
Podemos broke with Chavez's government in 2007. PPT, which in Spanish stands for Fatherland For All, similarly has irked Chavez's government by defecting from its camp.
On the ballot in Venezuela, candidates' photos typically appear along with the symbols of parties that back them.