VALENCIA, Venezuela: Billionaire businessman Lorenzo Mendoza has ruled out challenging Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in the upcoming election despite multiple calls for him to stand, sources from his company's workforce said on Thursday.
With the opposition's strongest potential presidential candidates barred from standing and polls confirming his popularity, there had been growing calls around Venezuela for Mendoza to run in the April 22 vote.
A crowd chanted "President! President!" when he recently attended a baseball game, and hundreds have been marching in Caracas and elsewhere urging him to stand and lauding his record as boss of the Polar food and beer company.
But the 52-year-old Mendoza has personally told workers he will not put himself forward, said one Polar employee in the central city of Valencia and another former employee who speaks to workers there.
"I don't remember his exact words, but he said he is a businessman, his family has worked hard to establish the business and that right now the conditions are inadequate for him to be a candidate," the employee told Reuters, referring to a meeting Mendoza held in recent days with workers in Valencia.
Polar did not respond to requests for comment.
The widespread clamour for Mendoza to stand - from his own employees to some opposition politicians and various grassroots organizations - reflect Venezuelans' anger and cynicism towards mainstream government and opposition leaders.
"There is a leadership crisis in Venezuela. That is why Lorenzo Mendoza is the perfect outsider and would have won easily," said Manfredo Gonzalez, coordinator of a group that has been holding marches to promote the Polar boss as a candidate.
Maduro is favourite to win the April election, though he is highly unpopular among Venezuelans who have endured an unprecedented economic crisis during his rule of the South American OPEC nation since 2013.
Venezuela's opposition says the vote is rigged for Maduro to win given that its most popular figures - Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles - are prohibited from standing and the national election board is widely perceived as pro-government.
Lopez is in jail accused of promoting violence against the government and Capriles is prohibited from standing due to alleged "administrative irregularities" when he was a state governor. Both men deny those charges, saying they are trumped up to sideline them.
However, the opposition also faces a credibility issue, with supporters disillusioned by in-fighting and the failure to weaken Maduro despite massive protests last year that paralysed swathes of the country and left nearly 130 people dead.
Leaders of the Democratic Unity opposition coalition have been meeting to decide whether to boycott the election or put up a unity candidate, with different factions divided over the strategy.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Susan Thomas)