Venezuelan diplomat Edmundo Gonzalez Urrutia

Little-known Venezuelan diplomat Edmundo Gonzalez Urrutia, the consensus opposition candidate picked to confront President Nicolas Maduro in July elections, told AFP Wednesday it was time for a "peaceful, democratic transition."

Gonzalez, 74, has the endorsement of opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, who is popular but banned from running by courts loyal to Maduro, who will be seeking a third six-year term.

Gonzalez, a political analyst and former ambassador to Argentina and Algeria, will represent the Democratic Unitary Platform (PUD) opposition coalition.

At his home in Caracas, Gonzalez told AFP: "It is time for a peaceful democratic transition for Venezuelans," after 25 years of Chavismo, the brand of populist leftist ideology championed by the late president Hugo Chavez and inherited by Maduro.

"This is my contribution to the democratic cause.... This is my contribution to unity, to the struggle for a democratic transition," he said, insisting: "I have no personal aspirations."

Unaccustomed to the limelight and despite some reservations, the diplomat said he was not afraid of embracing this new, unexpected role.

"I never, never, never imagined I would be in this position, but that is secondary to the challenge ahead," he said.

"Venezuela must put aside (internal) struggles, political diatribe, confrontation, and we must all fight for Venezuela's recovery and transition. That is what's fundamental," he said.

Gonzalez still refers to Machado as "the leader of the opposition" and "the leader of this unitary process."

Machado remains Venezuela's most popular opposition figure, and overwhelmingly won a primary election last in October.

She has been banned from public office for 15 years by courts loyal to Maduro on corruption charges she says are bogus, and accused of conspiring against her country for supporting Western sanctions against the regime.

Machado had tried to register a proxy, but electoral authorities blocked that option as well.

Gonzalez was chosen unanimously by an opposition coalition last Friday.

He told AFP Machado would continue campaigning for the PUD, and he was confident all her supporters will transfer their votes to him.

As for the opposition's election platform, he said this would include work to "bring Venezuelans together (and) the return of political exiles" followed by "the recovery of the economy and of democracy."

Asked about possible electoral fraud, Gonzalez said the opposition was "prepared for all scenarios" against the backdrop of a regime that views challengers "not as adversaries, but enemies."

He urged the international community to closely monitor the July 28 vote "and support us when the election results are announced."

In the end, he predicted, the regime "will have to admit that there is a new political reality."

Dozens of countries, including the United States, had refused to accept the results of Maduro's 2018 victory, alleging fraud and a lack of transparency.

That vote was boycotted by the opposition.

The United Nations estimates that almost eight million Venezuelans have fled their country since 2014 -- the year after Maduro took office.

The past decade has seen a severe economic crisis marked by runaway inflation and food and medicine shortages, plunging the population into misery.