President Nicolas Maduro won another six-year term as millions of Venezuelans boycotted the widely derided election, a victory that hands him sole ownership of the nation’s crushing economic crisis.
Ignoring calls from the US and regional leaders to suspend the polls, the socialist regime proceeded with the presidential contest despite the threat of further isolation and sanctions on the crisis-stricken nation’s all-important oil industry.
“How many times have they underestimated me?” Maduro, 55, called out to crowd of supporters outside the Mir aflores presidential palace in Caracas. “You have believed in me, and I’m going to respond to this infinite confidence, this lovely confidence.”
“They say you were forced to vote, that you were coerced into voting — it’s an insult to the people!”
The result continues two decades of rule by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez and Maduro, his hand-picked successor. Over that time, what had been one of Latin America’s wealthiest democracies has fallen into strongman rule. The economy has deteriorated to the point that electricity and running water are luxuries and malnutrition is rampant. Neighbour countries and international aid agencies are struggling to care for thousands of Venezuelans who have fled the nation.
Venezuela’s electoral authority said that Maduro won almost 68 per cent of the 8.6 million votes cast, while his main challenger, former governor Henri Falcon, took about 21 percent. The most important figure, however was turnout.
Voter participation was about 48 per cent, according to the head of the electoral authority. That would be the lowest for a presidential election since Chavez upended Venezuelan politics in 1998.
Critics said the government was promising economic benefits to push listless voters to increase the participation rate.
The country’s main opposition alliance shunned the elections after the government refused to satisfy demands including restaffing a compliant electoral authority and providing additional time for primaries. While many polls had given a commanding lead to Falcon, a former soldier and governor, he struggled to gain widespread support as many Maduro opponents accused him of legitimising a sham vote.
The US has no plans to recognise Sunday election in Venezuela, and sanctions against the nation’s oil industry are under “active review,” Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told reporters in Buenos Aires. Previous sanctions have been leveled against individuals, but punishing the nation’s lifeline industry could have devastating effects on a population already suffering.