Hugo Chavez’s successor has been sworn in as president of Venezuela, despite the electoral council authorising a partial recount of his victory of 1.5 per cent in last Sunday’s elections.
Forty-six per cent of the vote will be reviewed over the coming month to ensure that the correct man has taken the reins of the country following president Nicolas Maduro’s swearing-in yesterday.
Mr Maduro, who won with 51 per cent of the vote, describes himself as “Venezuela’s first Chavista president”.
The recount announcement comes as a surprise to an opposition whose requests for an audit had been roundly ignored by its victorious opponents, including an out-of-court snubbing by the president of the supreme court over state television, calling it “unnecessary”.
Defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who had initially demanded a full recount, said he was content with the compromise.
“This recount will prove that I won the presidency,” the erstwhile centrist politician announced at a press conference on Thursday. “The truth will simply surface later rather than sooner.”
Mr Capriles lost by 11 per cent of the vote last October when he stood for the presidency against Hugo Chavez, who died last month after a two-year battle with cancer.
With 12,000 boxes of ballots to be reviewed, the manual recount must be completed within 30 days.
“The fight hasn’t finished,” Mr Capriles continued, “but there’s a lot of work to be done.” Mr Maduro had threatened his opponent, who is governor of Miranda state, with ceasing to recognise his political status should he continue to protest his loss in the election, hinting at cut-backs to essential government aid in a state which contains part of Caracas.
The president returned to Venezuela yesterday following a meeting of South American leaders in Lima, Peru. The backing of neighbouring governments is vital for Mr Maduro, particularly following Washington’s snubbing of his win in the absence of a formal recount.
“We don’t care about your endorsement,” bellowed Mr Maduro in a televised reaction to US secretary of state John Kerry. “Take your eyes off Venezuela, John Kerry! Get out of here!”.
Many chavistas were upset at the news of the recount: “The opposition won’t accept that we are the majority,” said Vladimir Hernandez, a socialist supporter and teacher in a Miranda state vocational college. “This is a robbery of the poor.”
Others are less convinced by the government-sanctioned recount. “While election fraud most certainly occurred, the recount won’t detect it,” said Professor Mark Jones, a Venezuela expert at Rice University in Texas. “Maduro’s win is secure.”
Eight people have been killed in post-election protests throughout Venezuela. National guard officers have been captured on video firing tear-gas canisters into the crowds of peaceful protesters and shooting demonstrators at point-blank range with buckshot.