Venezuela: President Nicolas Maduro looks to shore up support in local elections | News | DW | 10.12.2017
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Venezuela: President Nicolas Maduro looks to shore up support in local elections

Venezuelan voters are returning to polling booths, this time to select mayors in all of the South American state’s 335 municipalities. It is the last national election ahead of next year's presidential race.

People standing in line for food distribution in Caracas

People standing in line for food distribution in Caracas

Three of the four biggest parties in the opposition Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) are boycotting Sunday's elections for mayors, the last national vote before current President Nicolas Maduro is expected to seek re-election in 2018. They say the election system is biased in favor of Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party (PUSV). 

The opposition's problems developed after a surprising loss in October's regional elections when the PUSV won 18 of the 23 seats. Four of the opposition governors who did win then went against the MUD line when they were sworn in at the new National Constituent Assembly (NCA), which is dominated by Maduro's party and condemned as "illegitimate" by MUD as it replaced the opposition-run national congress in July. 

Popular opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, broke away from the MUD coalition after the four governors, all Democratic Action party (AD) members, were sworn in. Capriles said he refused to take part in MUD while AD leader Henry Ramos Allup was a member of the coalition. He accused Allup of being Maduro's chosen opposition candidate for the 2018 presidential election.

The seat of the one MUD governor who did follow the coalition line, Juan Pablo Guanipa, the governor-elect of the oil-rich Zulia state, is up for grabs again on Sunday, following a decree by the National Assembly to hold a new election in the state.

Ruling party in charge

Shortly after the October vote, the NCA called for the local mayoral elections to be held in December, with commentators suggesting the ruling party was taking advantage of disarray in the opposition. Mayors issue permits for businesses, collect their own tax revenue and in major towns run health and education systems, and control the police. 

The opposition appears to be divided between those following a protest movement and seeking to bring about major change and those who favor a dialogue with the government. Talks have been taking place in the Dominican Republic between some opposition leaders and the government. The opposition has called for a guarantee for free and fair elections next year while the government wants to see US sanctions reduced. Further talks are expected next week after the elections.

Meanwhile, economic and social conditions continue to deteriorate with rampant inflation and a lack of basic goods and services. The opposition-controlled congress issued a report this month suggesting inflation could pass 2,000 percent by the end of the year. Venezuela's Central Bank stopped releasing regular inflation data in 2015. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast inflation would hit 635 percent this year.

New defaults

Venezuela defaulted on two of its US dollar sovereign bonds and the state electricity company was declared in default in November and the state-owned oil company PDVSA has been declared in "selective default" due to late payments on a number of bond issues. Last week the state defaulted on two bonds, failing to make a $183 million (€155 million) coupon payment, ratings agency S&P reported on Friday.

Maduro’s government has said it wants to restructure Venezuela’s foreign debt but has continued to make payments. A number of the country’s $60 billion outstanding bonds are already in default because interest payments have been delayed beyond the established grace period.

As it sits on top of the world's biggest oil reserves, Venezuela has a debt burden in the region of $150 billion.

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Venezuela on the brink of debt default

jm/sms (EFE, dpa)

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