Venezuela’s Maduro re-elected president as opposition challenges legitimacy

World Today

Venezuela Presidential ElectionA voter chooses his candidate next to a mural of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during presidential elections in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, May 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro won a new six-year term on Sunday, but main rivals have disavowed the election alleging massive irregularities.

Run by Maduro loyalists, Venezuela’s election board said he took 5.8 million votes, versus 1.8 million for his closest challenger Henri Falcon, a former governor who broke with an opposition boycott to stand.

“They underestimated me,” Maduro told cheering supporters on a stage outside Miraflores presidential palace in downtown Caracas as fireworks sounded and confetti fell on the crowd.

Maduro hailed a “popular victory” after he was declared winner.

Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores wave to supporters after the National Electoral Council announced that with almost 93 percent of polling stations reporting, Maduro won nearly 68 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election, Sunday, May 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Turnout at the election was just 46.1 percent, the election board said, way down from the 80 percent registered at the last presidential vote in 2013. The opposition said that figure was inflated, putting participation at nearer 30 percent.

“The process undoubtedly lacks legitimacy and as such we do not recognize it,” said Falcon, a 56-year-old former state governor, looking downcast.


Falcon, a former member of the Socialist Party who went over to the opposition in 2010, said he was outraged at the government’s placing of nearly 13,000 pro-government stands called “red spots” close to polling stations nationwide.

Mainly poor Venezuelans were asked to scan state-issued “fatherland cards” at red tents after voting in hope of receiving a “prize” promised by Maduro, which opponents said was akin to vote-buying.

The “fatherland cards” are required to receive benefits including food boxes and money transfers.

Henri Falcon

Supporters surround opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcon, former governor and one-time acolyte of Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, after he voted in the presidential election in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, Sunday, May 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Hernandez)

Maduro, 55, immediately called for dialogue with his opponents and put the best face forward on what analysts said were nonetheless disappointing results underscoring how vulnerable his hold on power remains. Despite energetic campaigning his overall vote haul slipped by 1.6 million from 2013, when he was first elected after Hugo Chavez’s death from cancer.

But he showed no sign of replaying Sunday’s vote.

“We will be the most powerful and largest political force in Venezuela for a long time,” he told a festive crowd of die-hard supporters who poured into the grounds of the presidential palace to celebrate. “It doesn’t faze me when they say I’m a dictator.”

He promised to spend the next two years before scheduled congressional elections repairing an economy he says has been badly damaged by mafias backed by Colombia and the U.S. He also slammed Falcon, who like him was an acolyte of Chavez, saying he had never seen a candidate dispute results before they were even announced.

“Sooner or later, they all break in the face of threats from the imperialists,” he said, pleading with the U.S. to reconsider its belligerence.

As results came out, Maduro supporters let off fireworks in poor Caracas neighborhoods and danced to Latin pop around the downtown Miraflores presidential palace.

Story includes reporting from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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