CARACAS - Venezuela will hold parliamentary elections this Sunday in a vote that the United States, European Union and many citizens view as a fraudulent effort by the ruling socialist party to seize control of the last institution in opposition hands. The opposition, led by National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, is boycotting the vote on the grounds that it will be rigged in favor of President Nicolas Maduro's allies. Court rulings have left the body largely toothless since the opposition won control in a December 2015 election. Sunday's vote will likely see Maduro's allies win a majority, strengthening his grip on power, despite a nearly two-year U.S.-led campaign of sanctions and diplomatic pressure and an economic collapse that has prompted a humanitarian crisis. A recent opinion poll of Venezuelans by consultancy Datanalisis found that 60% of 500 respondents were not willing to vote, while 34% wanted to do so. More than 90% said the country's situation was negative, citing hyperinflation and poor public services as the main problems. "Look at the conditions we're in," said Keili Muller, 27, a mother of four, in reference to the wood and zinc shack she calls home in the poor neighborhood of Marapa Piache in the coastal state of La Guaira. She complained that she had spent months trying to get officials to help with the constant flooding of her home but that none had come to her community - including Maduro's son, who is running to represent the state in congress. "That's why we say we're not going to vote, we're not going to do anything," Muller said in an interview. Guaido has insisted that the current National Assembly's mandate will continue past its set Jan. 5 deadline because the upcoming vote lacks legitimacy. His allies are organizing a parallel "Popular Consultation" scheduled for Dec. 12, designed as a referendum on Maduro. The United States and European Union will likely continue recognizing opposition control of the parliament given the perceived problems with the Dec. 6 vote, two opposition sources said. Dozens of countries also recognize Guaido as Venezuela's interim president, based on his role as speaker. But the sources said the loss of control of the parliament would still harm the opposition's ability to mobilize protests and ensure their critiques of the government reach a wide audience, leaving them closer to the status of their counterparts in Maduro allies Cuba and Nicaragua, who have less visibility. Among the alleged irregularities denounced by the opposition were decisions by the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court to remove Guaido allies from leadership positions in opposition parties and install shadow allies willing to compete in the election. Maduro allies have argued that the electoral conditions are the same as in 2015, when the opposition won control of the National Assembly, and that the sectors of the opposition that have decided to boycott did so because they are not committed to democracy and are afraid they would lose. REUTERS
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