Government opponents have won a sweeping victory in Sunday’s legislative elections in Venezuela, capturing at least 100 of the national congress’ 167 seats. The number is likely to climb as 22 races were too close to call as of 2 a.m. Monday morning, according to elections officials.
The United Socialist party, or Chávistas as they are commonly known, captured only 46 seats, making them the minority party for the first time in the 17 years since Hugo Chavez and successor, Nicolás Maduro, have held the presidency.
Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2012 presidential election, said that the results prove that the political tide in Venezuela has turned. “These are the numbers we have been hoping for,” he said. “There is no turning back now.”
Maduro and his supporters have remained quiet and mostly out of sight in recent days, apparently sensing that their side would lose. Maduro said last week that he would speak to the nation once election results were known but changed his mind and asked a cabinet minister to deliver the party’s message. That should come sometime today.
A stage set up in downtown Caracas by Maduro supporters for a post election celebration was quietly dismantled before midnight Sunday.
Some opposition leaders say they believe that it will be hard for Maduro to finish his presidential term, which ends in 2019. Henry Ramos, who had predicted that the opposition would win at least 100 seats, says that Maduro may be removed from office by the new congress, given the size of its majority. “This government is very weak,” said Ramos.
Maduro, who has attempted to continue the policies of the late Chávez, has has been saddled with triple-digit inflation and an intractable recession. Venezuela depends heavily on income from oil production, and the sharp drop in petroleum prices has starved the government of money.