Pro-government candidates have swept to an unforeseen victory in Venezuelan governor elections according to official results that have quickly been challenged by the country’s opposition.
Tibisay Lucena, president of the government-stacked National Electoral Council, announced late on Sunday that the socialist party had won 17 of 22 races in which the outcomes were considered irreversible, with one other race too close to call. It was a dramatic contrast to pre-election polls that projected widespread victories for the opposition.
The council said 61 per cent of the nation’s 18 million voters participated, a rate far higher than many people had anticipated in a country where many have grown disenchanted and apathetic.
Gerardo Blyde, an opposition leader, said the official results were fraudulent.
“Neither the Venezuelan people nor the world buy that story,” he said.
An hour before results were announced, the opposition’s command centres had been filled with smiles and jubilation. Leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo told a room filled with journalists and supporters that while he could not share the preliminary results, they showed a victory of “historic dimensions” for the Venezuelan people.
Independent pollsters also had projected that opposition candidates would win a majority, if not nearly all offices at a time when the country’s economy is plummeting at depression-era rates, inflation is in triple digits and crime is rampant.
“There is a wide disparity between the poll numbers and the results which show that these elections were not free and fair and don’t reflect the will of the people,” said Michael Shifter, president of the US-based Inter-American Dialogue.
The opposition called for an audit and urged Venezuelans to mobilise on the streets last night in support.
Maduro said he had “absolute faith” in the official results but would ask the constitutional assembly to request an audit in order to extinguish any doubts.
“A triumphant victory for Chavismo!” he proclaimed, referring to the movement founded by Hugo Chavez.
The disputed result threatened to heighten an already violent standoff between the government and opposition. Four months of anti-government protests that began in April left at least 120 people dead. The regional elections were originally scheduled to take place last December, but the electoral council postponed the vote after polls indicated socialist candidates were widely slated to lose.