CARACAS (AFP) – Venezuelans voted yesterday in legislative elections set to tighten President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power and further weaken his United States (US)-backed opposition rival Juan Guaido, who is leading a boycott of the polls he called a fraud.
Victory will give Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party control of an expanded 227-seat National Assembly, the only institution not yet in its hands.
“The day has come. We have been patient,” Maduro said on Saturday at his Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. Yesterday’s vote came five years after the opposition won control of the National Assembly by a landslide.
Guaido, 37, called for a boycott on grounds that “free and fair” conditions for holding elections do not exist. He labelled yesterday’s poll “a fraud”.
“Maduro’s objective isn’t even to gain legitimacy,” Guaido 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 today 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.
The vote takes place against a backdrop of deep political and economic crisis, with a weary population facing endless queues for gas, and chronic shortages of basic food and medical supplies.
That will likely translate into voter “apathy and inertia”, with Luis Vicente Leon of pollsters Datanalisis predicting a turnout of 34 per cent or less.
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, a victory which much of the international community branded illegitimate.