Venezuela ruling party wins local polls marred by low turnout – Al Jazeera English

Venezuela’s ruling party on Sunday emerged victorious in the local elections, marred by a high rate of abstention.

Only 27 percent of about 20.7 million eligible voters cast their ballot, handing President Nicolas Maduro‘s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) a massive victory.

National Electoral Council chair Tibisay Lucena said the PSUV won 142 of the 156 jurisdictions in play. Lucena put the rate of abstention at 72.6 percent.

She called it “a calm day of civic and democratic action”, while Maduro congratulated Venezuela on “consolidating its democracy” in a post on Twitter on Monday.

In the run-up to polling, analysts had predicted a record low turnout, citing mistrust in the electoral process, the banning of opposition parties and widespread exhaustion amid the ongoing socioeconomic crisis.

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Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said 150,000 police and military personnel had been deployed to provide security at polling centres.

Maduro sought to strengthen institutional control as Venezuelans choose 2,459 members for 335 city councils.

But the choice was limited after the Electoral Council disqualified the main opposition parties, which had controlled a quarter of city councils prior to the vote.

A country in crisis

The ballot took place as the country’s economy continues to spiral out of control, with severe food and medicine shortages and a 1.35 million percent inflation rate, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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Basic necessities have become astronomically expensive and Venezuelans are struggling to make ends meet.

Many have voted with their feet, with at least 2.3 million fleeing the crises since 2015, according to the United Nations.

The mass-migration has led to a humanitarian crisis as Venezuela’s neighbours and other countries struggle to cope with the influx of migrants and refugees. 

Regional criticism of Maduro has grown in recent years amid anti-government protests over the economic crisis.

Peru had said it would ask the 12 members of the pro-democracy Lima Group, which includes several Latin American and Caribbean countries along with Canada, to break relations with Venezuela from January 10, when Maduro takes office for his second term.

At least 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the crisis, according to the UN [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Consolidating power

Sunday’s vote came one month before Maduro begins his second six-year term after winning a controversial election in May, which was slammed as illegitimate by political opponents, the European Union, the United States and most of Latin America.

The opposition has accused Maduro of bending the electoral and judicial authorities to his will. 

On the eve of the election, the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference said the government’s actions “in different public domains do not guarantee impartiality or truth”.

The vote was the last in a series called by the governing Constituent Assembly, which effectively displaced the National Assembly, the only power in opposition hands.

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The pro-government Constituent Assembly was created last year at a time when months of opposition protests, often harshly put down, left 125 people dead.

Speaking on state TV after casting his vote, Maduro reiterated claims that the US was plotting a coup.

“An attempt is under way today coming straight from the White House to destroy our way of life in Venezuela and to overthrow our constitutional democracy,” he said without providing details. 

In September, the New York Times reported that Trump administration officials had held secret meetings with Venezuelan military officers to discuss plans to overthrow Maduro.

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