Venezuela opposition takes part in election as foreign teams observe

Photo: AFP

 

Venezuelan opposition parties participated in elections Sunday for the first time since 2017, voting for governors and mayors in a litmus test for President Nicolás Maduro’s government amid international sanctions and economic crisis.

By Digital Journal – Patrick Fort and Margioni Bermúdez

Nov 21, 2021

With European Union observers returning to the country after a 15-year absence, long queues of voters formed early at polling booths in the capital Caracas — a very different picture from elections for president in 2018 and for parliament two years later that were boycotted by the opposition.

“I feel that this time people are determined to vote,” said Jose Rafael Hernández, a 58-year-old opposition supporter casting his ballot in the capital, Caracas.

“I would like all of us to vote, even if it is a form of protest,” added Daniel Rey, a 25-year-old doctor from San Cristobal near the Colombian border.

“It is the best way to show that we want change to the benefit of the country.”

Leftist Maduro, whose deeply controversial presidency has seen the South American nation targeted by punishing economic sanctions, has sought a relaxation of the punitive measures through careful shows of goodwill and democratic intent.

With hundreds of millions of dollars of its funds frozen abroad, Venezuela wants to be able to sell its petroleum more easily — the United States is historically its biggest customer — and to end limits on imports.

The government has made a calculated series of concessions, opening negotiations with the opposition, and inviting election observers from the EU, the United Nations and the US-based Carter Center to witness Sunday’s vote.

The opposition, which for the past three years had boycotted elections they said were neither free nor fair, agreed to take part after receiving assurances from the government.

Some 21 million of Venezuela’s 30 million people are eligible to vote Sunday for 23 state governors, 335 mayors as well as state and municipal councils.

Opposition leaders hope to raise their profile through participation, and to gain support ahead of presidential elections set for 2024.

But there seems little doubt about the outcome: experts predict the Chavist movement that Maduro has led since the death of President Hugo Chavez in 2013 should easily prevail over a divided opposition.

– ‘Very good turnout’ –

Polling stations are set to close at 6:00 pm (2200 GMT), with results expected in the early morning of Monday.

“We will have a very good turnout,” predicted electoral council head Pedro Calzadilla.

The head of the EU observer mission, Isabel Santos, said the election was proceeding “calmly.”

On the eve of the vote, Maduro had warned that the EU had no authority to give a “verdict” on the process in a country that is prickly about its “sovereignty,” often accusing the United States of interventionism.

“All international escorts must respect the laws of Venezuela, and must strictly respect the regulations of the electoral power that invited them,” the president said.

The United States is among dozens of countries which do not recognize Maduro’s presidency after the impugned elections of 2018 that opposition leader Juan Guaido claimed to have won. 

Guaido has said the opposition must “unify the struggle” but indicated he would not vote as “it is certain that Maduro is, and will continue to be, illegitimate.”

Venezuela, a once-rich oil producer, is battling its eighth year of recession and hyperinflation that reached nearly 3,000 percent in 2020 and more than 9,500 percent the year before, according to central bank figures.

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

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