By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Candidates for unpopular head of state Nicolas Maduro seem to have scored a surprise win Sunday, taking 17 states to the opposition’s six. The opposition has said it will not recognize the "obviously fraudulent" results.
Maduro said Sunday night that the results were going to be audited, even after the head of the electoral agency he controls, Tibisay Lucena, had called them “irreversible” (her word of choice when announcing results) only hours earlier. Maduro had also said the same thing about the Presidential elections that brought him to power with a razor thin margin in the wake of the death of Chavez in 2013 -- those audits never happened.
#FraudeinVenezuela was the top trending topic on Venezuelan Twitter. And Spain’s Foreign Ministry said Monday morning during a European Union meeting to discuss possible sanctions for Venezuela, that Sunday’s results need to be clarified.
The U.S. also came down hard on the Maduro Regime, rhetorically speaking, but promising further use of "American economic and diplomatic power" on Venezuela.
"We condemn the lack of free and fair elections yesterday in Venezuela. The voice of the Venezuelan people was not heard. Our previously stated concerns were unfortunately realized: lack of independent, credible international observers; lack of technical audit for the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) tabulation; last minute changes to polling station locations without public notice; manipulation of ballot layouts; and limited availability of voting machines in opposition neighborhoods," said U.S. State Department Spokewoman Heather Nauert.
"As long as the Maduro regime conducts itself as an authoritarian dictatorship, we will work with members of the international community and bring the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear in support of the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy. We continue to call on the regime to provide for the humanitarian needs of its people, respect the constitution and National Assembly, allow a true democratic process, and release all political prisoners." POLLING
Sunday’s surprise results contradict almost all polls published before and during election day. Maduro’s popularity is in the doldrums after months of violent protest where 170 demonstrators and security forces died. According to the IMF, Venezuela's GDP has collapsed 45% -- more than the 29% GDP collapse in the U.S. Great Depression.
The turnout of over 61% was surprisingly high for an election of this kind.
According to the CNE, government candidates obtained 700,000 more votes than their opposition. That is the exact number of voters relocated 72 hours before the election, nationwide, but with a particular emphasis on states where Maduro’s candidates scored a surprise victory: Miranda state alone saw 200,000-plus voters, 10% of the total roll there, forced to relocate. The story repeated itself in Aragua, Carabobo and almost every state the pro-government forces took.
In the six states where the opposition won, relocations were minimum or non-existent. The opposition also said, before Sunday’s vote that the relocations seemingly targeted centers where opposition candidates had scored big wins in 2015.
The government tried to get the opposition to recognize the results before they were announced, a common occurrence in Venezuela under “chavismo”: in the past, the government has even tried to get the opposition to sign a document accepting the results before the election.
“Don’t start crying out fraud now, you should just recognize the results,” said Maduro spokesman and mayor Jorge Rodriguez during a didactic speech aimed at the opposition on live TV, carried on all networks, hours before the Maduro-controlled CNE announced the surprise results.
In 2013, the election gave Nicolas Maduro (already the acting President after his mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez’s death weeks earlier) the narrowest Presidential win in recorded history: 150,000 votes, or less than 1,5% of all votes cast.