Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

EU Observer Mission chief says although “better conditions” marked the weekend’s vote, some problems persisted.

Venezuela’s recent regional and local elections was held under better conditions than previous competitions, said the head of a European Union observation mission, despite a series of irregularities.

Isabel Santos told reporters on Tuesday that EU observers had taken note of a “lack of compliance with the rule of law” by Venezuela’s ruling party, despite “better conditions” than previous competitions.

Santos would not say whether she believes the vote last weekend was free and fair.

Some candidates have been banned from running for administrative reasons, she said, and the most recognized leaders of some opposition parties withdrew their names from consideration.

Sunday’s vote was the first time in four years that Venezuela’s US-backed opposition is fielding candidates. It suffered a thunderous defeat with the ruling party winning at least 18 out of 23 governorships. Venezuela’s government has said its elections are completely free and fair.

The vote was also the first election overseen by EU observers in the oil-rich nation in 15 years.

The socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro has long faced accusations of anti-democratic practices by the United States and other critics, although the presence of EU observers for Sunday’s vote was seen by some as a small degree of legitimacy on the process.

Maduro said EU observers had carried out their mission “very well”, but other senior members of the ruling party referred to the observers as “peepers” and accused them of arriving in the country with a pre-written report.

The US, which also has observers in the South American country, condemned the election on Monday as a “very skewed” fraud.

“Maduro robs Venezuelans of their chance to shape their own future,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “We call on the Maduro regime to end its repression and allow Venezuelans to live in the peaceful, stable and democratic country they deserve and have long sought.”

Blinken reiterates US support for opposition leader Juan Guaido, who considers Washington the interim president after questioning the legitimacy of Maduro’s last election in 2018.

Weakened and divided, the opposition won only three out of 23 states, although it included significantly oil-rich Zulia – the country’s most populous region of which the capital Maracaibo is Venezuela’s second largest city.

Once a wealthy oil producer, Venezuela is fighting its eighth year of recession and hyperinflation, which reached nearly 3,000 percent in 2020 and more than 9,500 percent the year before, according to central bank figures.

Three out of four Venezuelans live in extreme poverty, according to a recent study, with the economic crisis exacerbated by US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

The EU’s Santos said Venezuela’s national electoral authority was more politically balanced than it had been in 20 years – something she said was key to building public confidence.

But other long-standing problems with the country’s political system continue, she said.

“The campaign has also been characterized by the widespread use of state resources,” Santos said, and “unequal access to media outlets.”

Santos lamented the murder of one voter in Zulia state who was killed while waiting in line. She also said that one election observer and two human rights workers had suffered “aggressions” in the state of Lara.

More than 1,000 polling stations in 23 states were visited by 136 EU observers as part of their mission in the country, Santos said. Her team will release a final report in late January or early February.

About 42 percent of eligible voters voted in this weekend’s polls.

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