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Nicolas Maduro wins Venezuela presidential election

21.05.2018

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected to a second six-year term. Rival candidates have rejected the electoral process and called for new elections. The vote was marked by low turnout.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) announced on Sunday the re-election of President Nicolas Maduro with 67.7 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, Henri Falcon, came in second with 21.2 percent, while Javier Bertucci was third with 10 percent.

CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced the results with 92.6 percent reporting and said the turnout was 46.1 percent.

Read more: Venezuela's economic demise hovers over elections

Amid reports of tepid turnout, polling stations remained open more than two hours after they were scheduled to close. 

Nicolas Maduro holds a pocket-sized copy of the constitution as he speaks to supporters

"They underestimated me," Maduro told cheering supporters outside Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, in the midst of fireworks and confetti.

In his speech, the Venezuelan president said he felt legitimized by the vote, saying there would be no more elections in the next two years. Maduro expressed a willingness to sit down with his opponents, openly reached out to them and spoke about his government's wish for peace.

But Maduro also basked in his wide-margin victory, calling his win "historic" and "record breaking." Unconcerned about low turnout, Maduro asserted that even if the opposition had not boycotted the vote, he still would have won. The successor to Chavez's legacy, he touted the large number of elections that Chavismo has won since 1998.

Maduro added that the movement he had inherited was the "strongest political force" in the country. "Today I love Venezuela more than ever," Maduro said.

Voters heed boycott call

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the united opposition parties' alliance, had sent out a clear message asking voters to abstain from going to the ballot box. The decision to not participate in the vote was made in protest, as a rejection of the electoral system, which they said was rigged in Maduro's favor.

Venezuela on the brink
The last straw

In March 2017, violent protests erupted across the country in response to a Supreme Court decision to strip the legislative branch of its powers. Amid an international outcry, President Nicolas Maduro reversed the decision, but it was too late. Thousands continued to take to the streets, calling for new elections. More than 100 people were killed in clashes with security forces.

Venezuela on the brink
Hunger, a growing problem

The violence added to the ongoing economic and political crisis in Venezuela. Many Venezuelans spend more than 30 hours a week waiting in lines to shop, and are often confronted with empty shelves when they finally enter a store. President Maduro blames the crisis on US price speculation. The opposition, however, accuses the Socialist government of economic mismanagement.

Venezuela on the brink
Health care in crisis

The crisis has even affected health care in the oil-rich nation. Venezuelans often head to Colombia to collect medical supplies to send home, as seen in this picture. Hospitals across Venezuela have compared conditions to those seen only in war zones. As patient deaths rise, health officials have sounded the alarm on the rise of malaria and dengue fever.

Venezuela on the brink
Power grab

By July 2017, Venezuela's pro-government Constituent Assembly was established. For observers, it had all the hallmarks of a power grab. The new body adopted the authority to pass legislation on a range of issues, effectively taking away the powers of Venezuela's elected congress, which was under the opposition's control. The move drew wide international condemnation.

Venezuela on the brink
The West sanctions

In response to the political crisis, the United States and European Union imposed a series of sanctions against ruling officials. The US blacklisted members of the Constituent Assembly and froze all of Maduro's assets that are subject to US jurisdiction. The EU banned arms sales to the country.

Venezuela on the brink
Government victorious in regional elections

In October 2017, Venezuela held two votes: regional elections and elections for governors, which were long overdue. The opposition boycotted the vote, but then split, as some candidates and small parties chose to participate. This caused a deep rift within Maduro's opponents. The government went on to sweep the vote, which detractors say was unfair and heavily favored the regime.

Venezuela on the brink
Debt default

In November 2017, the oil-rich, cash-poor nation faced its day of reckoning. Credit ratings agencies declared Venezuela and its state-run oil company in "selective default." But Russia offered to restructure the South American country's debt to ensure Caracas pays its other creditors. US and EU sanctions, however, limited the chance of an agreement.

Venezuela on the brink
Presidential elections scheduled

The National Assembly announced in January 2018 that it would grant Maduro's call for snap presidential elections. The electoral authority, CNE, held the elections on May 20. The EU, the US and 14 Latin American nations warned that they would not recognize the results. The mainstream MUD opposition alliance boycotted the vote, leaving only one possible outcome.

Venezuela on the brink
Maduro wins ...

Maduro was re-elected to a second six-year term with about 68 percent of the vote. Turnout was only 46 percent, according to electoral authorities. However, the MUD opposition alliance put turnout at less than 30 percent. The Organization of American States (OAS) called the elections neither free nor fair.

Venezuela on the brink
... Guaido assumes power

But weeks into the new year, the situation took a drastic turn. On January 23, 2019, parliament president Juan Guaido declared himself interim president of Venezuela — a move that was quickly recognized by US President Donald Trump. Maduro called it a US-backed "coup." Days later, the US sanctioned Venezuela's state oil firm, while Guaido staked his claim on the country's foreign assets.

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The MUD announced on Sunday its own estimation of the turnout, affirming that less than 30 percent of the country's 20.5 million eligible adults cast their ballots. The Associated Press reported that voting centers across Caracas appeared largely empty during Sunday's election.

"Maduro has been overwhelmingly defeated by citizens who did not accept blackmail, pressure or intimidation," said Victor Marquez, a member of the Ample Front movement within the MUD.

Marquez urged candidates Falcon and Bertucci not to recognize the results, saying the election was fixed.

"We want the candidates who presented themselves to take a step forward and not recognize a result that is already cooked," said Marquez. 

MUD also reported that Venezuelans in 70 cities across the world had demonstrated peacefully against the elections.

Read more: Can Germany be a new home for young Venezuelans?

Falcon rejects results

Candidate Henri Falcon spoke to supporters shortly before the official results were announced and rejected the MUD's call for a boycott, saying that a lower voter turnout made it easier for the government to manipulate the results.

"We categorically reject this electoral process," he said, calling for a new election to be carried out in October of this year.

In his speech, Falcon detailed the ways in which the government manipulated the vote in its favor. In particular, by setting up stands, so-called "red points," to scan voter's IDs in order to distribute food and money.

Candidate Henri Falcon speaking to supporters prior to the announcement of results

Maduro's critics have accused the government of tying the ballot with food giveaways and instilling fear among poor Venezuelans about losing the food rations and money transfers they have come to depend on.

Falcon said that he received about 900 complaints throughout the day about ruling party employees scanning voters' IDs near polling stations. By the time polls closed, his campaign denounced at least 13,000 government "red points."

The existence of "red points" within 200 meters of a polling station would violate existing electoral laws.

"The buying of votes, toying with people's dignity, cannot continue," Falcon had said earlier, after casting his ballot in the state of Lara.

Falcon, the strongest opposition candidate in the race, also denounced that his election observers were barred from entering polling stations and one of them was beaten by members of the armed forces.

International criticism

In Chile President Sebastian Pinera rejected Sunday's vote. "Venezuela's elections do not meet minimum standards of true democracy," he said. "Like most major democratic nations, Chile does not recognize these elections."

Panama's government quickly followed suit, and said it would not recognize the result. But fellow leftist-run nations Cuba
and El Salvador sent congratulations. 

U.S. Republican senator Marco Rubio, a critic of Maduro, urged isolation of his government and said he supported "all policy options" to return Venezuela to democracy.

Bertucci: New elections without Maduro

Javier Bertucci echoed Falcon's call to establish new presidential elections in October, but he went further, saying that Maduro should "step aside" and allow a contest with fresh candidates. Bertucci also said he believed that the MUD boycott was a mistake.

03:32 mins.
DW News | 20.05.2018

DW correspondent Ofelia Harms Arruti in Caracas as Venezuela votes

jcg/sms (EFE, Reuters, dpa)

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