- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

CARACAS, VENEZUELA | A prominent opponent of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that he won’t bow out of the presidential race despite a contradictory Supreme Court ruling that upheld a ban on him holding office but also said he could be a candidate.

In a televised speech, former Caracas district Mayor Leopoldo Lopez vowed to compete in a February primary that will pick a single opposition candidate to face Mr. Chavez in October 2012.

“I can and I’m going to be a candidate for the presidency,” he told cheering supporters. Mr. Lopez said the court’s decision, while not entirely clear, had stated he would be permitted to run.

As for whether he should be elected, he said, “that decision corresponds only to the Venezuelan people, to the popular will.”

The country’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld a decision by the country’s top anti-corruption official disqualifying Mr. Lopez from holding office until 2014. The ruling, however, also said that Mr. Lopez may still run for office if he chooses.

It remains unclear how far Mr. Lopez might be able to go with his candidacy, however. Anti-corruption official Adelina Gonzalez reiterated on Tuesday that Mr. Lopez will be disqualified from holding public office until 2014.

Ms. Gonzalez, the acting comptroller general, told state television that based on the ruling, Mr. Lopez “won’t be able to hold public posts, neither by election nor by appointment.”

Polls have shown the former mayor is a strong contender, though trailing others, such as state governors Henrique Capriles and Pablo Perez. Polls also suggest Mr. Chavez could face the toughest re-election fight of his nearly 13-year-old presidency.

Mr. Lopez is on a list of hundreds of politicians barred from holding office owing to corruption investigations, but he insists he is innocent and notes he was never sentenced in a court.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed as “unfeasible” a decision by the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights that had sided with Mr. Lopez and said his political rights had been violated.

The temporary prohibition resulted from multiple allegations. One is that a nonprofit group to which Mr. Lopez belonged had received donations from 1998 to 2001 from the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, where he and his mother worked at the time.

The comptroller general also sanctioned Mr. Lopez in 2004 for alleged irregularities in the movement of funds from one portion of his budget to another during his term as mayor.

Mr. Lopez challenged his disqualification in the Inter-American court, arguing that his political rights had been violated. The court ruled on Sept. 1 that Venezuelan electoral officials should allow him to run.

The Supreme Court dismissed that ruling as “unfeasible” and found that the measure barring him from holding public office “does not impede him from exercising his political rights.” It added that the “administrative disqualification … is directed only at temporarily impeding the exercise of public duties.”

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