Venezuela regional elections: Maduro's party takes most states

Venezuela's election body said President Nicolas Maduro's ruling party won a majority of governorships in Sunday's regional election. The opposition, which was expected to head for a landslide, is crying foul.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council said ruling Socialist party candidates won in 17 out of 23 states in the country's regional elections on Sunday.

Politics | 13.09.2017

The opposition, which opinion polls showed was expected to win back control of majority of the state governorships, took only five of the states. 

Just before the results were made public, the opposition, which was hoping for a major victory over Maduro, said it had "serious suspicions and doubts over the results" and that the pro-government election board was about to announce results in favor of Maduro's ruling party.

Maduro's Socialist Party, which controls 20 state governorships, was expected to face a backlash in the elections for pushing Venezuela towards an economic meltdown that has led to crippling food and medical shortages and a soaring inflation.

The election outcome has come as yet another blow for the beleaguered opposition that failed to unseat Maduro after violent protests earlier this year that led to at least 120 deaths and thousands of arrests.

Read more: Venezuela: Former Attorney General Luisa Ortega wants to see Maduro in court

Venezuela regional elections: What you need to know

The election

Venezuelans will vote for governors in all 23 states on Sunday. The election had been slated for December, but the government-friendly electoral commission, CNE, delayed the vote after predicted losses for the ruling Socialist Party. The party has traditionally dominated state governor's offices, but recent polls have projected that the Venezuelan opposition will win a majority of governorships.

Venezuela regional elections: What you need to know

The challenge

Scrutiny of the vote's transparency is set to be intense. An election software company said authorities had tampered with the final turnout count after Venezuela's last election in July. The CNC has recently moved 203 polling stations from areas with strong opposition support. It said security-related considerations were behind the decision.

Venezuela regional elections: What you need to know

The president

Nicolas Maduro replaced former President Hugo Chavez following Chavez's death in April 2013. Maduro's authoritarian reign has seen the rapid decline of the economy and a huge drop in support for the president's government. Maduro recently set up a new constituent assembly after his Socialist Party lost control of the country's parliament in 2015. The move led the US to label him a "dictator."

Venezuela regional elections: What you need to know

The opposition

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) is the main opposition group in Venezuela. It was launched in 2009 and is made up of about 20 parties from across the political spectrum that oppose President Maduro. Key leaders include Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, and Maria Corina Machada (pictured). MUD demands include restoring power to the parliament and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

Venezuela regional elections: What you need to know

The economic crisis

The Venezuelan economy has collapsed since 2014. Real GDP will have contracted by 35 percent in 2017 compared to the end of 2014 according to the IMF, and the fund predicts inflation to exceed 1,000 percent by the end of the year. Stacks of cash are needed to buy bare necessities. The crisis has also caused widespread food shortages and led many to flee Venezuela to neighboring countries.

Venezuela regional elections: What you need to know

The political crisis

The economic crisis has undermined Maduro's popularity and helped fuel a political crisis. Security forces have repeatedly clashed with demonstrators calling for the president's removal. Despite losing the street and power in the parliament, Maduro's position is still relatively secure. He has the support of the military, the Supreme Court, and the newly created constituent assembly.

Venezuela regional elections: What you need to know

The curse

Venezuela possesses the world's largest oil reserves, and for many years, the country benefited from selling its black gold. But a 50-percent collapse in oil prices in 2014 devastated the oil-dependent economy with government petroleum revenues dropping from $80 billion in 2013 to $20 billion in 2016, according to the IMF.

Venezuela regional elections: What you need to know

The future

A big win for MUD candidates on Sunday may not spell disaster for Maduro's government. The powerful Maduro-controlled constituent assembly could try to undermine MUD governors. State legislative assemblies controlled by the Socialist Party could also frustrate MUD governors. Once the dust settles on Sunday, Venezuelan's are set to vote for the presidency in April 2018.

Hurdles galore

Earlier in the day, voters could be seen lining up to cast their ballot at several places even after the official poll closing time of 6 p.m. local time (2200 UTC). More than half the registered voters are expected to have voted, though participation appeared to be lower than in past presidential and congressional elections.

The opposition accused the pro-government National Electoral Council, which relocated 200 voting centers on security grounds, of attempting to suppress turnout in its strongholds by requiring voters to walk long distances, sometimes in unsafe areas.

The election board also refused to remove from the ballot names of opposition politicians who lost in primaries, likely confusing voters.

There were also technical glitches such as electrical failures.

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The president of the election board, Tibisay Lucena, played down reports of irregularities. Lucena said problems with electricity and voting machines have been few and far between.

Read more: Who makes up Venezuela's political opposition

'We are no dictatorship'

President Maduro on Sunday released a taped message, calling on Venezuelans to vote in the elections and show to the world that their country was a vibrant democracy.

"They have said we are a dictatorship. No. We are a rebellious, egalitarian people," Maduro said. "Democracy has triumphed."

Opposition leaders mocked Maduro's suggestion.

"We are fighting to recover our democracy," said opposition leader Henrique Capriles. "Democracy is not just voting."

Maduro has warned that the newly-elected opposition governors will have to swear allegiance to a new constituent assembly elected in July.

The opposition considers the entirely pro-government legislative superbody illegal. The new assembly supersedes all other institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.

ap/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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