Boycott-tainted poll win gives Maduro total control in Venezuela

Boycott-tainted poll win gives Maduro total control in Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with his wife Cilia Flores gestures to photographers as he votes in legislative elections in Caracas, on December 6, 2020.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with his wife Cilia Flores gestures to photographers as he votes in legislative elections in Caracas, on December 6, 2020.

CARACAS - President Nicolas Maduro hailed a "new dawn" in Venezuela on Monday as he celebrated his now total grip on power following a predictable triumph in polls boycotted by the opposition and slammed as a farce by international powers.

Victory for Maduro's ruling Socialist Party in Sunday's legislative elections gave him control of an expanded 227-seat National Assembly, the only branch of government not in his hands.

"Today Venezuela wakes up with a new dawn of peace, joy, unity and strengthening of democratic institutions," Maduro said on Twitter.

Maduro and his left-wing allies had 67.7 percent of the vote with over 80 percent of ballots counted, while the opposition bloc which broke the boycott had 18 percent, the National Electoral Council said.

Most Venezuelans turned their back on the polls however, with turnout just 31 percent.

Maduro's victory nonetheless further weakens US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who led the boycott after calling the vote "a fraud".

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would continue to recognize Guaido "and the legitimate National Assembly".

"The international community cannot allow Maduro, who is in power illegitimately because he stole the 2018 election, to gain from stealing a second election," Pompeo said in a statement.

He described the election as a "farce" and a bid to install a "complicit, puppet National Assembly, beholden only to Maduro."

Britain called the elections "deeply flawed" and said it continued to recognize Guaido as Assembly speaker as well as Venezuela's interim president.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo tweeted that the vote was an "electoral farce" and an attempt by the Maduro "dictatorship" to legitimize its rule.

Canada and the Organization of American States also rejected the result, while the European Union said the vote showed "a lack of respect for political pluralism."

Washington, Guaido's main ally, is leading pressure to oust Maduro with economic sanctions, including an oil embargo in force since April 2019.

Maduro said he would call on US President-elect Joe Biden to lift the sanctions.

The opposition had controlled the National Assembly since 2015.

Maduro sidelined the body in 2017 by creating an all-powerful Constituent Assembly stacked with his supporters. The Supreme Court meanwhile declared legislation passed by the National Assembly null and void.

- Crippling crisis -

The election, contested by about 14,000 candidates from more than 100 parties, came with the country in a deep political and economic crisis -- suffocated by runaway inflation, paralyzed in endless queues for petrol, lacking water and gas supplies, and afflicted by power cuts.

Since November 2019, inflation has reached 4,000 percent.

Maduro, a former bus driver who became president on the death of his mentor Hugo Chavez in 2013, was re-elected in 2018 in fraud-tainted polls -- also boycotted by opposition parties -- a victory that much of the international community branded illegitimate.

The United States, the European Union and many Latin American countries have long blamed Venezuela's crippling economic crisis on Maduro's repression and misrule.

They backed Guaido when the National Assembly speaker proclaimed himself interim president in January of last year.

Guaido, 37, called on voters to stay at home on grounds that "free and fair" conditions for holding elections do not exist.

"Maduro's objective isn't even to gain legitimacy," he told AFP in an interview this week, adding that the goal was instead to simply wipe out all semblance of democracy.

Guaido and his allies plan a week-long plebiscite from Monday seeking public support to prolong the mandate of the current National Assembly until "free, verifiable and transparent" elections can be held.

However, the results will not be binding, as Maduro exercises control of the country's institutions, including the Supreme Court and the powerful military.

Initial enthusiasm that greeted Guaido's push for power has waned, and critics now see his plebiscite ploy as a desperate gamble.


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