Last Friday the socialist government of Venezuela announced that Henrique Capriles, one of the country’s most popular opposition leaders, was banned for running from office for 15 years. From the LA Times:

For the third time in a week, Capriles on Saturday led massive demonstrations in downtown Caracas to protest against the Maduro government. Marchers held placards that read “Liberty,” “Elections now,” and ” Down with dictatorship.”…

On Thursday, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol blamed Capriles for leading demonstrations that threatened to “destabilize the country.” Violent clashes with police, who used tear gas to disperse protesters, left one student killed from police gunfire on Thursday. Thirty protesters were arrested.

A day later, the controller general’s office said Capriles was disqualified from running for office again because of improper use of his state’s budget on unspecified contracts, funeral expenses and for publicity.

This isn’t the first time the ruling socialists have used this move against a potential challenger. The government did the same thing to Leopoldo Lopez, another opposition leader who has been in a military prison for two years on trumped-up charges.

The behavior of the Maduro government makes a certain nefarious sense. If you’re the ruler of a collapsing socialist state and polls show the people have turned against you, the only option is to use the power of the state to knock out potential rivals. And when that’s not enough, you simply prevent the population from voting. That’s why elections for governor in Venezuela’s 23 states were suspended indefinitely last year. From NPR:

“[The Socialist Party] loved having elections when they used to win them,” says Phil Gunson, a Venezuela analyst for the International Crisis Group. “They used to boast all the time: ‘We’ve had 18 elections and 17 of them we’ve won. We’re terribly democratic.’ ”

Gunson says the government grew skeptical of elections after the opposition won the 2015 legislative elections in a landslide.

“They say: ‘There isn’t enough money, there’s an economic crisis,’ that elections are not the priority. I mean, these are all just excuses,” Gunson says. “Everybody knows that the real reason the government doesn’t want to have elections is because it’s going lose them.”

The same dynamic explains why a referendum effort which had already gathered millions of signatures was canceled last year. Polls showed that if the referendum was allowed to come to a vote, President Maduro would be removed from office. So the government simply announced the entire effort was canceled, claiming fraud.

The current round of protests started when the country’s pro-socialist supreme court announced it would take over all the duties of the opposition-led National Assembly. The court walked that back a few days later after massive protests and criticism from some of Venezuela’s neighbors.