Venezuela’s opposition has won control of the National Assembly by a landslide, delivering a major setback to the ruling party and altering the balance of power in the country after 17 years of socialist rule.
The opposition won at least 99 seats in the 167-seat legislature, National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena announced. The socialist party won 46 seats.
The streets of the capital, Caracas, erupted with shouts of joy and fireworks after the partial results were announced. Opposition leaders had earlier claimed they won but gave no indication of the margin.
Within moments of the results being announced, president Nicolas Maduro took to the airwaves to recognise the opposition’s win, saying that despite an adverse result Venezuela’s democracy and constitution had triumphed.
But he recalled the long history of coups in Latin America and blamed what he called a “circumstantial” loss on opponents conspiring to destabilise his socialist revolution.
Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said on Twitter that “with great humility, serenity and maturity we accept what the people decided”.
The opposition victory dealt a serious blow to the socialist revolution started 17 years ago by the late Hugo Chavez, who until his death in 2013 had an almost magical hold on the political aspirations of Venezuela’s long-excluded masses.
It was also a major blow to Latin America’s left, which gained power in the wake of Mr Chavez’s ascent but which more recently has been struggling in the face of a region-wide economic slowdown and voter fatigue in some countries with rampant corruption.
Last month, Argentines elected a conservative businessman over the chosen successor of Cristina Fernandez, who was a close ally of Mr Chavez. In Brazil, president Dilma Rousseff is battling low approval ratings and facing impeachment over a corruption scandal in her left-leaning Workers’ Party.
The result marked the opposition’s first major electoral victory since Mr Chavez became president, with Venezuelans tired of rampant crime, routine shortages of basic goods and inflation pushing well into triple digits. The economic crisis has worsened with this year’s slump in oil revenue, which funds almost all public spending.
Opposition leaders spoke in strident terms, a prelude to what is likely to be a period of intense political fighting in a country already deeply polarised.
“The country wants change and that change is beginning today,” Jesus Torrealba, head of the Democratic Unity opposition coalition, told supporters in Caracas.