Venezuela National Assembly names Maduro loyalist to head top electoral authority

By Deisy Buitrago and Vivian Sequera

CARACAS (Reuters) -Venezuela's National Assembly, which is dominated by the ruling socialist party, on Thursday named loyalist Elvis Amoroso as head of the National Electoral Council (CNE).

Prior to being named head of Venezuela's highest electoral authority, Amoroso formerly served as the South American country's comptroller general, overseeing use of public funds.

Amoroso's selection comes as Washington has said it is prepared to ease sanctions against Venezuela, but only if President Nicolas Maduro takes concrete steps toward free elections.

Enderson Sequera, strategic director at Politiks consulting firm, said naming Amoroso at this time signals "tacit confirmation" that Maduro's government wants to enter negotiations in a position of strength.

Choosing an academic, for example, instead of a reputed loyalist like Amoroso, would be seen as "an early concession to the United States," added Sequera.

During Amoroso's tenure as comptroller general, the office has ruled against various opposition politicians and candidates for state governorships, and more recently against opposition hopefuls vying for a presidential nomination for 2024 elections, disqualifying them from holding public office for what the opposition says are unfounded reasons.

Amoroso replaces Pedro Calzadilla, who resigned in June along with the CNE's other seven directors, only two of whom were linked to the opposition.

The new members of the CNE include Rosalba Gil, Carlos Quintero, Aime Nogal and Juan Carlos Delpino.

Opposition politicians moved to independently organize primary elections following Calzadilla's resignation.

Whoever wins the primary will face the ruling party's candidate in 2024, assumed to be Maduro, although he has not yet confirmed that.

The opposition primary will take place on Oct. 22.

In June, the Comptroller's Office barred Maria Corina Machado, the favorite to win the opposition primary, from holding public office for 15 years.

Two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is also barred from holding public office.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Vivian Sequera; Editing by Oliver Griffin, Sarah Morland and Bill Berkrot)