Still, the streets were less tense after the electoral council’s decision on the audit, which was a surprising reversal because that body is stacked with government supporters. Earlier in the week, the council insisted that a review of the voting was not necessary, fending off demands by the opposition for a vote-by-vote recount.
That led to street demonstrations Monday and Tuesday that government officials said left eight people dead and dozens wounded. Then on Thursday, Tibisay Lucena, the head of the council, said an audit of 12,000 boxes loaded with votes would be conducted, taking a month to complete.
The examination by technicians will include comparing the paper receipts that were emitted by voting machines with a registry of the voters who cast ballots at each machine.
Though he had initially asked for a more extensive and complex recount, Capriles, 40, a lawyer and governor, said the council’s decision creates a possibility of resolving the crisis. “We know where the problems were,” he said, “in those 12,000 is where the problems were.”
The government said 54 percent of the vote had already been checked after the voting Sunday. Now, the council said it will scrutinize the other 46 percent of the votes.
Capriles said his campaign had detected 3,200 voting irregularities, including gunmen at polling stations, rolls that included dead voters and polling stations where opposition officials were forced out.
Decrying the opposition
Meanwhile, state-run TV and radio stations continued to paint a picture of the opposition as a violent, anti-democratic force whose leaders go to drastic ends to thwart the voice of the people. Broadcasts feature one official after another accusing Capriles and his closest aides of planning violence and threatening legal action.
Maduro and other officials have said the opposition has even attacked clinics. “These are crimes that are a product of racism, social racism,” the new president said in his inauguration, adding that his foes targeted Cuban medical personnel in particular.
Capriles has shot back that the government staged the violence to blame its adversaries and sway public opinion while launching a crackdown leading to beatings and detentions. “Stop chasing the people, stop,” Capriles said Thursday, directing his comments at Maduro.
Arnson, the Woodrow Wilson analyst, said that the electoral council’s decision and Maduro’s acceptance were positive developments. But she also wondered how it would turn out, with Maduro now the president.
“Venezuela excels in bizarre situations in governance,” she said. “So you have agreed to an audit that takes a month to do and at the same time you have Maduro being inaugurated.”