The Washington Post

Venezuelan president faces first electoral test


A man votes during municipal elections in Caracas . The elections on Sunday were seen as the biggest political test yet for President Nicolás Maduro as he tries to halt an economic slide and preserve the socialist legacy of his mentor Hugo Chávez. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Pro-government candidates and opponents of President Nicolás Maduro split Venezuela’s disputed mayoral elections Sunday, prolonging a political stalemate in the face of mounting economic problems.

Members of Maduro’s socialist party were declared victors by the National Electoral Council in 196 of 335 municipalities up for grabs, while the opposition took 53 and independent candidates won eight races. The remaining 78 contests were too close to call.

The opposition, which won 46 municipalities in the 2008 elections, held control of the country’s two biggest cities and won at least four state capitals currently in the hands of government supporters, including Barinas, the home town of President Hugo Chávez, who died in March.

But opposition forces were unable to capitalize on discontent with galloping inflation and worsening shortages to win the much-watched national total vote and achieve its goal of punishing Maduro in his first electoral test since he defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles for the presidency by a razor-thin margin in April.

“The Bolivarian Revolution continues now with more strength,” Maduro told supporters at a rally in downtown Caracas to celebrate what he called a “grand victory.”

Voting took place in relative calm, with only minor disruptions and isolated acts of violence. At 58 percent, turnout was heavy for local elections, though it trailed the 80 percent that cast ballots in April’s presidential election, a reflection of fatigue that has set in across Venezuela’s political spectrum over the past few months.

It is unclear whether the results will reinforce or slow Maduro’s recent tilt to the left.

As Venezuela’s economic troubles have deepened, with inflation touching a two-decade high of 54 percent and shortages of staples such as toilet paper and milk spreading, disapproval of Maduro’s rule has been rising, especially within the coalition of ideological leftists and members of the military that he inherited from Chávez.

But the 51-year-old former bus driver managed to regain momentum by going after groups and businesses he accuses of waging economic war against his socialist government.

— Associated Press

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