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Nicolas Maduro wins Venezuela presidential election

May 21, 2018

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected to a second six-year term. Rival candidates have rejected the electoral process and called for new elections. The vote was marked by low turnout.

A Venezuelan man votes with a mural of Chavez in the background
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Cubillos

Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) announced on Sunday the re-election of President Nicolas Maduro with 67.7 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, Henri Falcon, came in second with 21.2 percent, while Javier Bertucci was third with 10 percent.

CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced the results with 92.6 percent reporting and said the turnout was 46.1 percent.

Read more: Venezuela's economic demise hovers over elections

Amid reports of tepid turnout, polling stations remained open more than two hours after they were scheduled to close. 

Nicolas Maduro holds a pocket-sized copy of the constitution as he speaks to supporters
Nicolas Maduro holds a pocket-sized copy of the constitution as he speaks to supportersImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Cubillos

"They underestimated me," Maduro told cheering supporters outside Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, in the midst of fireworks and confetti.

In his speech, the Venezuelan president said he felt legitimized by the vote, saying there would be no more elections in the next two years. Maduro expressed a willingness to sit down with his opponents, openly reached out to them and spoke about his government's wish for peace.

But Maduro also basked in his wide-margin victory, calling his win "historic" and "record breaking." Unconcerned about low turnout, Maduro asserted that even if the opposition had not boycotted the vote, he still would have won. The successor to Chavez's legacy, he touted the large number of elections that Chavismo has won since 1998.

Maduro added that the movement he had inherited was the "strongest political force" in the country. "Today I love Venezuela more than ever," Maduro said.

Voters heed boycott call

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the united opposition parties' alliance, had sent out a clear message asking voters to abstain from going to the ballot box. The decision to not participate in the vote was made in protest, as a rejection of the electoral system, which they said was rigged in Maduro's favor.

The MUD announced on Sunday its own estimation of the turnout, affirming that less than 30 percent of the country's 20.5 million eligible adults cast their ballots. The Associated Press reported that voting centers across Caracas appeared largely empty during Sunday's election.

"Maduro has been overwhelmingly defeated by citizens who did not accept blackmail, pressure or intimidation," said Victor Marquez, a member of the Ample Front movement within the MUD.

Marquez urged candidates Falcon and Bertucci not to recognize the results, saying the election was fixed.

"We want the candidates who presented themselves to take a step forward and not recognize a result that is already cooked," said Marquez. 

MUD also reported that Venezuelans in 70 cities across the world had demonstrated peacefully against the elections.

Read more: Can Germany be a new home for young Venezuelans?

Falcon rejects results

Candidate Henri Falcon spoke to supporters shortly before the official results were announced and rejected the MUD's call for a boycott, saying that a lower voter turnout made it easier for the government to manipulate the results.

"We categorically reject this electoral process," he said, calling for a new election to be carried out in October of this year.

In his speech, Falcon detailed the ways in which the government manipulated the vote in its favor. In particular, by setting up stands, so-called "red points," to scan voter's IDs in order to distribute food and money.

Henri Falcon denounces irregularities in his speech
Candidate Henri Falcon speaking to supporters prior to the announcement of resultsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Llano

Maduro's critics have accused the government of tying the ballot with food giveaways and instilling fear among poor Venezuelans about losing the food rations and money transfers they have come to depend on.

Falcon said that he received about 900 complaints throughout the day about ruling party employees scanning voters' IDs near polling stations. By the time polls closed, his campaign denounced at least 13,000 government "red points."

The existence of "red points" within 200 meters of a polling station would violate existing electoral laws.

"The buying of votes, toying with people's dignity, cannot continue," Falcon had said earlier, after casting his ballot in the state of Lara.

Falcon, the strongest opposition candidate in the race, also denounced that his election observers were barred from entering polling stations and one of them was beaten by members of the armed forces.

International criticism

In Chile President Sebastian Pinera rejected Sunday's vote. "Venezuela's elections do not meet minimum standards of true democracy," he said. "Like most major democratic nations, Chile does not recognize these elections."

Panama's government quickly followed suit, and said it would not recognize the result. But fellow leftist-run nations Cuba
and El Salvador sent congratulations. 

U.S. Republican senator Marco Rubio, a critic of Maduro, urged isolation of his government and said he supported "all policy options" to return Venezuela to democracy.

Bertucci: New elections without Maduro

Javier Bertucci echoed Falcon's call to establish new presidential elections in October, but he went further, saying that Maduro should "step aside" and allow a contest with fresh candidates. Bertucci also said he believed that the MUD boycott was a mistake.

DW correspondent Ofelia Harms Arruti in Caracas as Venezuela votes

jcg/sms (EFE, Reuters, dpa)

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