Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela and its Allies Win Big regional elections participated for the first time in four years by the opposition.
Sunday’s vote for governors and mayors across the South American country, overseen by European Union observers, was widely seen as a political tactic for a country that has experienced years of economic crisis exacerbated by crippling international sanctions.
Maduro said the victories, which led to his allies winning 20 of 23 governorships, as well as the mayoralty of the capital Caracas, “should be celebrated”.
“The victory is impressive,” he said.
The election drew a 41.8 percent turnout, with 8.1 out of a possible 21 million voters casting a ballot, according to the National Electoral Council (CNE).
This was especially significant as it was the return of opposition parties which has been boycotting elections in the country since 2018 amid allegations of fraud and intimidation by violent gangs loyal to Maduro.
Many of those parties reluctantly returned to the polls after a series of government concessions, including the admission of EU observers, amid frustration that a multi-year international sanctions campaign had failed to oust Maduro from power.
Meanwhile, the EU mission will present a report on the election on Tuesday.
However, the three governors who have won the opposition include oil-rich Zulia, the most populous region in the country whose capital is Maracaibo Venezuela’s second largest city.
In the 2017 regional elections, the ruling party won 19 governorships, while opposition politicians took four.
The head of the 130-member EU observer mission, Isabel Santos, said on Sunday that the election was “calm”, while the CNE said only “small and isolated problems” were registered during the vote.
Nevertheless, opposition figure Henrique Capriles accused the Maduro government of ordering some polling stations to remain open after closing time at 18:00 (22:00 GMT), even though there were no voters waiting in line.
“They’re going to post voices that do not exist,” he tweeted.
‘Reconsider our strategy’
Sunday’s vote represents a major setback for the opposition, who hoped it would raise their profile ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
The beleagured opposition was plagued through disagreement and questions about whether some candidates were actually government entities meant to divide their supporters.
Tomas Guanipa, the opposition candidate for mayor of Caracas, said the results showed “we need to reconsider our strategy so far”.
“What is unmistakable is that the vast majority of this country wants change, and that is why we must fight.”
The polls – and the government concession that preceded Sunday – come as Maduro tried to build goodwill with the international community in hopes of sanctions relief, as well as the thawing of foreign funds and to resell its oil to several rich nations.
The country is currently experiencing its eighth year of recession in a row, with hyperinflation reaching nearly 3,000 percent by 2020.
A recent study found that three out of four Venezuelans live in extreme poverty, with the economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Maduro’s charity campaign also included launch has now stopped talks mediated by Norway with opposition leaders in Mexico City in September and also allowing the Carter Center in the United States to see Sunday’s vote.
However, Maduro, who became president in 2013, said on Saturday that international observers had no authority to give a “verdict” on how the regional elections were conducted, saying they “must respect the laws of Venezuela, and must abide by the regulations of the electorate they invited ”.
The US is among dozens of countries that have not recognized Maduro’s presidency since the controversial 2018 national election, led by opposition leader Juan Guaido claims he won.
Before Sunday’s vote, Guaido called on the opposition to “unite the fight”, adding that “it is certain that Maduro is illegal and will be happy”.