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Venezuela: Opposition defeats Maduro’s Socialists

8th Dec 2015
Venezuela: Opposition defeats Maduro’s Socialists

SAO PAULO (AA) — Venezuela’s opposition coalition ended more than 15 years of parliamentary control by President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialists after winning a majority of seats, authorities confirmed early Monday.

More than 60 parties stood in the National Assembly vote, broadly split into two opposing groups — one led by the ruling PSUV party, and the other under the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable or MUD.

With 96 percent of results processed, the MUD had taken 99 seats, compared to 46 by PSUV candidates. The remaining 22 of the 167 seats in the unicameral parliament have yet to be declared.

In the 2010 parliamentary election, the PSUV took 96 seats, and the MUD garnered 64.

Seventy-four percent of the nearly 20 million eligible voters turned out to exercise their civic duty, said the National Electoral Council (CNE).

The new National Assembly will sit for the first time on Jan. 5.

The opposition’s majority, as it stands, means it can mount a challenge to certain laws, potentially including the release of political prisoners. A two-thirds super majority of 112 seats would give the chamber power to effect major change to Venezuela’s institutions, including constitutional amendments by referendum and even a challenge to Maduro’s presidency.

The results represent a symbolic first major defeat for the Socialist movement founded in 1999 by Maduro’s predecessor, the popular Hugo Chavez who died in 2013.

Maduro said he recognized the government’s defeat. “Seeing these adverse results, we have come … to tell Venezuela that democracy has triumphed.” He said the opposition’s “economic war” on the country had led to the result.

MUD executive secretary Jesus Torrealba, said the vote had “managed to beat democratically a government that is undemocratic” and that “change has begun in Venezuela, the agenda of peace won out”.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, narrowly defeated by Maduro in the 2013 presidential elections triggered by Chavez’s death, said the results were a victory for Venezuela. “[Maduro] has clearly not understood what has happened today … The country wants change,” he said on social media.

Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, sounded a triumphant tone in a video published on social media. “Venezuela, we move forward with more hope and more commitment,” she said on Twitter.

Fireworks were seen over Caracas shortly after the results were announced.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department congratulated Venezuelans for voting in “a peaceful and democratic way” and urged authorities to continue to publish the results transparently.

A White House spokesman said the polls demonstrate the Venezuelan people’s “overwhelming desire for a change in direction”.

Voters backing the opposition told Anadolu Agency that the dire state of the economy, a chronic shortage of staple goods, rampant corruption and soaring crime rates had influenced their vote.

Stephen Gibbs, political analyst for The Economist magazine in Caracas, told Anadolu Agency that the “simple majority” result “would probably be the best outcome” as “it will force negotiations between an opposition-controlled National Assembly and the Chavistas,” he said, referring to supporters of Chavez’s brand of socialism.

Venezuela’s CNE officially extended Sunday’s vote by an hour, in a move condemned by the opposition as an attempt by the government to gain more votes.

The opposition and voters on social media said election law had been repeatedly broken, from illegal campaigning by leafleting on the streets to senior government figures on state television urging voters to elect Socialist candidates.

“The ballot cast by the voters is a vote for change and a clear call on all political actors and institutions in Venezuela to engage in constructive political efforts to address together the challenges ahead,” said Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief.

The results is another blow to Latin America’s left-wing politicians. Argentina recently elected center-right Mauricio Macri to overturn years of leftist politics.

Author: Michael Hernandez, Esra Kaymak, Benjamin Tavener
[Photo: Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, addresses to the media after she learned the early results of parliamentary elections, in Caracas, Venezuela. Photogrpher: Carlos Becerra/AA}

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