Venezuela’s electoral system was being put to the test Sunday, with millions of people casting ballots for thousands of races — the first in four years with major opposition participation following a series of boycotts over unfair conditions.
The contest was being observed by more than 130 international monitors, mostly from the European Union, satisfying a longstanding demand of the opponents of President Nicolás Maduro.
After the government offered measures to increase confidence in now-ended negotiations between the opposition and the ruling party, the main opposition parties accepted to be part of the agreement.
Venezuelans have the right to vote for more than 21,000,000 people. This includes 335 mayors posts and 23 governors. There were more than 70,000 applicants for the race.
“I vote for Venezuela, I don’t vote for any political party,” Luis Palacios, 72, said outside a voting center in the capital of Caracas. “I’m not interested in politics, they don’t represent this country. I think Venezuela can improve by participating because, well, we don’t have any other option anymore.”
Not all of them shared Palacios’ enthusiasm for the election. Some Caracas polling locations showed a low turnout.
Maduro will not be on the ballot. Maduro’s term expires in 2025. But what is at stake is the legitimacy of the National Electoral Council, which has often been accused of setting conditions favorable to Maduro’s allies. Recent years have seen the disqualification of parties as well some popular opposition candidates.
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To observe campaign activities, fairness and candidate disqualification, international observers are currently stationed in Venezuela. A preliminary report will be released next week. An in-depth analysis is expected next year.
For the first time, EU observers have been in Venezuela for 15 years. Foreign observation in previous elections was mostly carried out by regional and multilateral electoral organisations close to Venezuela’s executive.
Pedro Martinez (56), a public hospital worker, said that it was very encouraging that observers were sent to ensure that no problems or cheating are reported. He stood outside an eastern Caracas voting center. It gives me more confidence that they will respect our rights to vote, and we deserve to have our voices heard.
Martinez said he votes every election, and this time his country’s economy and health care services are on his mind. Martinez said that health care workers make “practically nothing”, and hospitals are in dire need of supplies and equipment.
Millions of Venezuelans live in poverty, facing low wages, high food prices and the world’s worst inflation rate. The country’s political, social and economic crises, entangled with plummeting oil production and prices, have continued to deepen with the pandemic.
For both state and municipal elections historically, turnout was low with abstention at 70%.
Regardless of turnout, Sunday’s elections could mark the emergence of new opposition leaders, consolidate alliances and draw the lines to be followed by Maduro’s adversaries, who arrive at these elections decimated by internal fractures, often rooted in their frustration at not being able to knock from power the heirs of the late President Hugo Chávez.
“What we are going to see is a fight for second place because second place will symbolically mean which opposition (the government believes) should be stopped more, that will have a weight,” said Félix Seijas, director of the statistical research firm Delphos. The results of this survey will reveal who “is” the country’s second-largest force and what segment of it, he said.
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About a dozen individuals looked at lists of identities on a wall in a low-income area that had been an important supporter of the government to find the correct center. Carmen Zambrano, a resident of a low-income neighborhood that has been a stronghold for support for the government made remark about how many people are still waiting to vote.
“I don’t see much harmony,” she said, attributing it to general discontent. Zambrano previously stated that many more people would vote.
She was frustrated at having to purchase everything, including medications and syringes so her little grandchild could get treated in a hospital. She said her frustrations include having to purchase all the supplies, from medications to syringes, so that her toddler grandchild could be treated for an infection at a hospital two weeks ago.
Maduro, First Lady Cilia Flores and President Maduro in television messages after they cast their ballots encouraged Venezuelans get out there to vote.
Maduro declared, “I believe that through the vote of people, decisions that guide us, which point us towards the direction, and the destiny of this country will emerge.”
He said that election would “enhance political dialog, strengthen democracy governance, strengthen capacity to deal with problems, and seek solutions”. In the same remarks, however, he stated that the dialogue with opposition could not be resumed at this time.
After the Extradition of an important Maduro ally to the U.S., negotiations were temporarily suspended.
“It was the government of the United States that stabbed in the back the dialogue between the Bolivarian government of Venezuela and the extremist Guaidosista opposition of Venezuela,” he said, referring to opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
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María Meneses stopped by the Caracas polling center where she has voted for the past 40 years. The 84-year old was informed that she had been assigned this time to another center.
“Please, please, I have to vote. Meneses stated that she wanted to vote outside a school where the neighborhood has always voted against the government.
As she leaned in a foldable grocery cart she stated that she would find her next polling station.
She said, “Many people in my area have fled (the country)”, “I would like to see the stars.”