Venezuela’s opposition has won a key two-thirds majority in the country’s parliament.
Final election results, released on Tuesday, dramatically strengthened the opposition’s hand in any bid to wrest power from President Nicolas Maduro after 17 years of socialist rule.
More than 48 hours after polls closed, the National Electoral Council published the final tally on its website, confirming that the last two undecided races broke the opposition coalition’s way, giving them 112 out of 167 seats in the National Assembly that will be sworn in next month. The ruling socialist party and its allies got 55 seats.
The publication ends two days of suspense in which Mr Maduro’s opponents claimed a much larger margin of victory than initially announced. The outcome, better than any of the opposition’s forecasts, gives the coalition an unprecedented strength in trying to rein in Mr Maduro as well as the votes needed to sack Supreme Court justices and even remove Mr Maduro from office by convoking an assembly to rewrite Hugo Chavez’s 1999 constitution.
Although divided government should foster negotiations, Mr Maduro in his first remarks following the results showed little sign of moderating the radical course that voters rejected.
Even while recognising defeat, the former bus driver and union organiser blamed the “circumstantial” loss on a right-wing “counter-revolution” trying to sabotage Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy and destabilise the government.
On Tuesday, Mr Maduro visited Mr Chavez’s mausoleum in the 23 of January hillside slum where the government suffered a shock loss in Sunday’s vote.
Accompanied by members of his top military command, he accused his opponents of sowing discrimination and class hatred, cautioning workers who voted for the opposition that they would regret their decision to abandon the government.
“The bad guys won, like the bad guys always do, through lies and fraud,” Mr Maduro said.
“Workers of the fatherland know that you have a president, a son of Chavez, who will protect you.”
He asked top ministers to symbolically resign from their posts to facilitate a cabinet reorganisation. And he also vowed during his more than four-hour speech to reject any law that would free imprisoned anti-government activists. The opposition coalition has promised that one of the new legislature’s first acts will be to pass an amnesty law that would free jailed leaders it considers political prisoners.
Hardliners in the notoriously fractious opposition seem similarly inflexible, preferring to talk about ending Mr Maduro’s rule before his term ends in 2019 rather than resolving Venezuela’s triple-digit inflation, plunging currency and the widespread shortages expected to worsen in January as businesses close for the summer vacation.
Moderates however are calling for dialogue to give Mr Maduro a chance to roll back policies they blame for the unprecedented economic crisis.
But with most Venezuelans bracing for more hardship as oil prices, the lifeblood of the economy, hover near a seven-year low, even they recognise the window for change is small and closing fast.