Nicolas Maduro has won another six-year term as Venezuela’s president, in a vote marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging.
Just 46% of the electorate turned out to vote amid food shortages stemming from a severe economic crisis.
The main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, rejected the result soon after the polls closed.
He said: “We do not recognize this electoral process as valid… we have to have new elections in Venezuela.”
With more than 90% of the votes counted, Nicolas Maduro, 55, had 67.7% – 5.8 million votes – National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena announced. Henri Falcón won 21.2% – 1.8 million votes – she said.
Nicolas Maduro told cheering supporters outside his presidential palace in Caracas, as fireworks went off and confetti was fired in the air: “They underestimated me.”
Henri Falcón has alleged that the vote was rigged in Nicolas Maduro’s favor, by abuse of the scanning of state-issued benefits cards used for accessing food.
According to government officials, the polls were “free and fair” but most of the opposition joined a boycott against the poll.
The Trump administration said it would not recognize the result. Tweeting ahead of the vote, the US mission to the UN called the process an “insult to democracy”.
Venezuela’s presidential elections were supposed to be held in December 2018, but the National Constituent Assembly, made up exclusively of Nicolas Maduro’s supporters, brought them forward.
The opposition Democratic Unity coalition said the elections were moved to take advantage of divisions within the coalition. Its two biggest candidates were also barred from running, and others have fled the country.
There were a handful of minor candidates but only Henri Falcón, a governor under the late President Hugo Chávez, was seen as a viable alternative to Nicolas Maduro. Henri Falcon came from the same socialist party as President Maduro, but left in 2010 to join the opposition.
Henri Falcón, who ran despite the boycott, has said he believes the majority of Venezuelans want to remove Nicolas Maduro from office.
The rest of the opposition, however, has frowned on his breaking ranks – with some even branding him a traitor.
Nicolas Maduro said the presidential poll would go ahead “with or without the opposition”.
Meanwhile, the former speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, said the decision to call an early vote was in retaliation against recent EU sanctions against senior government officials.
Henry Ramos Allup accused the government of usurping the people’s legitimate power with the creation of the Constituent Assembly which effectively bypassed the National Assembly.
The election for the Constituent Assembly was boycotted by the opposition.
The country has for several years struggled with shortages of basic items, including food staples and medication.
President Maduro says foreign nations, and especially the US and Spain, are leading a campaign to bring down Venezuela’s socialist government.
The opposition blames corruption and the policies of the Socialist Party, which has been in power since 1999, for rampant violence and the collapse of the economy.
Nicolas Maduro was elected in April 2013 to succeed his mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer.
The president has urged Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to “fix the earliest possible date” to hold the poll.
Nicolas Maduro told his supporters in Caracas: “Let’s get over with this, win the president poll and put an end to the imperialist threat.
“It it was for me, the election would be held next Sunday.”
Nicolas Maduro says his party won more than 300 of the 335 mayoral races being contested. The election board put turn out at 47%.
Venezuela has been mired in a worsening economic crisis characterized by shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation.
Presiedent Maduro said he was following the criteria set by the National Constituent Assembly in banning opposition parties from contesting next year’s election.
However, the assembly, which came into force in August and has the ability to rewrite the constitution, is made up exclusively of government loyalists. Opposition parties see it as a way for the president to cling to power.
The presidential vote had been scheduled for December 2018, but analysts say it could now be brought forward.
Venezuela has a population of more than 30 million people. It has some of the world’s largest oil deposits as well as huge quantities of coal and iron ore.
Despite its rich natural resources many Venezuelans live in poverty. This led President Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, to style himself as a champion of the poor during his 14 years in office.
Now the country is starkly divided between supporters of President Nicolas Maduro and those who want an end to the Socialist Party’s 18 years in government.
Nicolas Maduro supporters say his party has lifted many people out of poverty, but critics say it has eroded Venezuela’s democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy.
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