President Nicolas Maduro has seized total control of Venezuela’s political institutions with a sweeping victory in legislative elections that were boycotted by the main opposition parties.
Maduro and his left-wing allies won 67.7 percent of the vote with more than 80 percent of ballots counted, while the opposition bloc which broke the boycott had 18 percent, National Electoral Council president Indira Alfonzo said late on Sunday.
Turnout was low with 69 percent abstaining.
Sunday’s predictable triumph gives Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party control of an expanded 227-seat National Assembly, the only official body held by the opposition.
The win gives Maduro control of the last chief branch of government outside his grasp.
“We have recovered the National Assembly with the majority vote of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said in a televised address. “It’s a great victory without a doubt for democracy.”
The National Assembly had been led by the United States-backed politician Juan Guaido, who has pressed to overthrow Maduro for nearly two years.
The US has been leading the pressure to remove Maduro with economic sanctions, including an oil embargo in force since April 2019.
Guaido’s opposition movement is holding its own referendum over several days immediately after the election. It will ask Venezuelans whether they want to end Maduro’s rule and hold new presidential elections.
“Although I cannot promise a magic solution today, I can tell you with certainty and security: You are not alone. We will not give up,” Guaido said in a video message. “We are going to give everything until we win.”
But an initial enthusiasm that greeted Guaido’s push for power has waned, and critics see his plebiscite ploy as a desperate gamble.
People queue outside a polling station to cast their vote during parliamentary election in Caracas [Manaure Quintero/Reuters] Polls amid crisis
The election, contested by about 14,000 candidates from more than 100 parties, comes with the country in a deep political and economic crisis – suffocated by runaway inflation, paralysed in endless queues for petrol, lacking water and gas supplies and afflicted by sudden power cuts.
Since November 2019, inflation has reached 4,000 percent. More than five million people have fled the country in recent years, the world’s largest migration after that of war-torn Syria.
The International Monetary Fund projects a 25-percent decline this year in Venezuela’s gross domestic product or GDP, while hyperinflation diminishes the value of its currency, the bolivar, now worth less than a millionth of a dollar on the free market.
Venezuela has also been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and voters were required to wear masks inside polling stations, where the floors bore markings to ensure social distancing was maintained.
Maduro, the hand-picked successor to the late President Hugo Chávez, won a second term in 2018. But dozens of nations allied with the US reject his legitimacy, alleging the vote was rigged and his most popular challengers were banned.
Guaido, 37, swore to remove 58-year-old Maduro early last year – basing his claim to the interim presidency on his leadership of the National Assembly, whose term legally ends in early January under the constitution.