Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has shrugged off international condemnation and allegations of vote buying and electoral fraud to claim a second six-year term at the helm of his crisis-stricken nation.
Addressing crowds of supporters outside the presidential palace in Caracas on Sunday night, Maduro hailed the “impeccable electoral process” that had returned him to power with 67.7% of the vote.
“This was a historic day! The day of a heroic victory! The day of a beautiful victory – of a truly popular victory,” Maduro shouted.
“The whole of Venezuela has triumphed! Democracy has triumphed! Peace has triumphed! Constitutionality has triumphed [These were] elections that were constitutional, legitimate and legal,” he insisted, before claiming: “We have a president of the people! A working president!”
Two independent pre-election polls had shown the race to be neck-in-neck between Maduro and top challenger Henri Falcón.
Venezuela’s election board put turnout at just 46.1%, way down from the 80% registered at the last presidential vote in 2013, due to a boycott by Venezuela’s mainstream opposition.
Tibisay Lucena, the head of Venezuela’s electoral commission, told reporters Maduro had received more than 5.8 million votes compared to the 1.8 million of his nearest rival, Falcón.
As results came out, Maduro supporters reportedly let off fireworks in poor Caracas neighbourhoods and danced to Latin pop around the downtown Miraflores presidential palace.
But even before Maduro’s victory speech, domestic opponents and much of the international community were denouncing the election as a “fraud foretold”.
Henri Falcón claimed widespread vote buying and electoral irregularities meant the election was “illegitimate”. “We do not regonize this electoral process as valid,” he told reporters. “As far as we are concerned there has been no election. There must be new elections in Venezuela.”
“All Venezuelans know what happened today,” tweeted Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 election and was subsequently barred from running again. “Our beloved Venezuela must have truly free and democratic elections where the will of our People is reflected in the result.”
Luz Mely Reyes, a prominent Venezuelan journalist, tweeted: “Today is a sad day for democracy. The government clings on and manipulates, the opposition is divided and lacking a strategy. And voters are without guides or leadership.”
The United States’ mission to the United Nations indicated it would reject the result. “Today’s so-called election in Venezuela is an insult to democracy … It’s time for Maduro to go,” it tweeted.
The president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, said that his country, “like the majority of democratic countries”, would not recognise the vote. “Venezuela’s elections do not meet the minimum standards for a true democracy. They are not clean or legitimate elections and they do not represent the free and sovereign will of the Venezuelan people,” Piñera wrote.
Maduro dismissed such criticisms in his late-night victory address and vowed to work swiftly to stablize his country’s economy, amidst a calamitous economic meltdown that saw the economy shrink by 13% last year and has seen more than a million people flee abroad since 2015.
“You have put your trust in me and I will pay back this infinite, loving trust,” he said.
To cries of “Vamos, Nico!”, Maduro added: “Today I love the Venezuelan people more than ever before!”
Credit: The Guardian, www.theguardian.com