Maduro’s Party Dominates in Venezuela Regional Elections
(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s ruling socialist party appeared to win all but three races for governor in regional elections Sunday marked by low turnout amid splits within the U.S.-backed opposition and voter apathy following seven years of economic recession.
Government candidates led 20 of 23 states, according to results announced by the National Electoral Council with more than 90% of votes in, though the margin in three of those states was still close. The widely expected victory for authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro’s party, the PSUV, strengthens his control as he tries to rebuild the country’s standing internationally.
“The results should be respected by all Venezuelans and we must prepare for a new era,” Maduro said after results were announced shortly after midnight. He called for dialogue with elected opposition governors and mayors. “We have to continue learning from the people, correcting our mistakes.”
Maduro secured victories in three key states --Miranda, Carabobo and Lara-- plus the capital of Caracas. Results for the more than 3,000 races for mayors and municipal offices have yet to be announced.
His opponents, running candidates after boycotting recent elections, captured at least three governor seats, Cojedes, Nueva Esparta, and Zulia. the most-populated state. Votes were still being tabulated in Tachira, Apure and Barinas. The opposition won five states in 2017, the last time they competed.
The surprise win in Cojedes, a food-producing state in Venezuela’s western plains, marks the first time that Chavismo has lost the stronghold in 20 years. Luis Salamanca, political scientist at Universidad Central de Venezuela and former rector at the electoral council, attributed it to the opposition unifying to support a single candidate.
Elsewhere, fractures in the opposition contributed to losses, such as in Miranda and Lara. The results laid bare how the opposition lacks a single figure lead, he said.
“The opposition leadership is perishable and now we are seeing a new situation in the search for new leadership, but it is very weak,” Salamanca said.
Weighed down by an economic collapse, U.S. sanctions, a crippled oil industry, and an International Criminal Court investigation, Maduro is seeking the international community’s seal of approval for the election after votes in previous years were deemed fraudulent. More than 300 electoral observers from the European Union, Carter Center and the United Nations, among others, were monitoring the vote.
The EU, which deployed an electoral observation mission for the first time since 2006, made only brief remarks midday Sunday. It canceled an afternoon press conference. Its preliminary report is scheduled to be released Tuesday.
“The EU will likely see that, although these elections were an important step, there’s still a lot to be done to have competitive elections in Venezuela and that abstention is a reality,” said Ricardo Sucre, a professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas.
The vote was marked by low turnout and scattered reports of irregularities. Just 41.8% of voters cast ballots, compared to more than 60% in 2017.
At least one violent incident was reported, in Zulia, where one person was killed and two others were injured in a shooting outside a polling center. The government said it was not related to the election. According to human rights group Foro Penal, at least 13 arrests were made throughout the day.
“We view with great concern the reports of irregularities, threats and attacks on election day in Venezuela, which reaffirms that there are no conditions for free and fair elections in the country,” Tamara Taraciuk, acting deputy director of the Americas for Human Rights Watch wrote in a tweet.
After voting Sunday, Maduro ruled out, at least temporarily, restarting political negotiations with the opposition, which were suspended last month after the U.S. extradited government ally Alex Saab to face money laundering charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.