8 of 10 candidates in Venezuela's upcoming presidential election pledge to respect election results

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Eight of 10 candidates in Venezuela’s upcoming presidential election, including President Nicolás Maduro, on Thursday signed an agreement binding them to respect the results of the contest as announced by electoral authorities.

The agreement put forth by Venezuela’s electoral body could end up being insignificant: The government has a history of testing and breaching the terms of agreements and the document wasn't signed by Edmundo González Urrutia, the only opposition candidate with a real chance of ending Maduro’s quest for a third term on July 28.

“Now, it is the document of the electoral arbiter. Whatever the electoral arbiter says, amen,” Maduro told reporters after the signing ceremony. “I call on all Venezuelans to support this document and to respect the electoral arbiter, the National Electoral Council, and that its word be sacred.”

The electoral body has long been stacked with allies of the ruling party who function as a tool of Maduro’s government, bending rules in favor of preferred candidates and blocking the participation of the opposition.

González in a statement said an “agreement can never be imposed unilaterally" and “must emerge from a respectful dialogue between the parties.” He said the government has already violated an agreement it entered into with the opposition coalition he represents, including by rescinding an invitation to the European Union to send a mission of electoral observers and by increasing ”the persecution against leaders and supporters of our campaign.”

The electoral council earlier this year set the presidential election for July 28, fulfilling one of the provisions of the accord to which González referred.

Under the agreement, which was signed in Barbados, both sides vowed to work toward improving conditions for a free and fair election. But Maduro and his allies have continuously tested the limits of the accord, including by blocking the candidacy of María Corina Machado, who won the presidential primary of the U.S.-backed Unitary Platform coalition, as well as of her chosen substitute.

Machado and the coalition are now backing González, a former diplomat.

Thursday's agreement makes no mention of political persecution, but candidate Benjamin Rausseo standing at the podium said he had received the document hours before and would still sign it but wanted to “formally request” that guarantees of people's political rights be included.

He said the agreement should state that the winner will “seek broad and sufficient guarantees of non-political persecution of any leader of any tendency or party, as well as of current or former officials in office at the time of the election.”