Maduro reelected in Venezuela amid diplomatic row

Amid charges of vote rigging and an opposition boycott, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was returned to office for another six-year term on Sunday.

With 93 percent of the vote counted, Maduro had earned 6.2 million votes, or 67 percent of ballots cast.  Maduro’s closest challenger, Henri Falcon, a former governor of Lara State, and a former ally of the late Venezuelan dictator, Hugo Chavez, earned 20 percent of the vote.

An election marked by a boycott organized by opposition candidates, voter turnout was estimated at 46 percent of eligible voters by the National Electoral Council, the lowest in decades.

“You have confided in me and I’m going to respond to that infinite confidence, that loving confidence.  All Venezuela has triumphed. Legitimate elections, accompanied by the only one who can decide the future, the people,” Maduro told supporters at a post-election rally in Caracas.

Most polls ahead of the election gave the advantage to Falcon, who denounced the election results and demanded a new vote.

“We do not recognize this electoral process as valid,” Falcon told reporters after polls closed. “For us, there were no elections.”

An election marred by charges of vote buying, critics of the government in Caracas say Maduro arranged to reschedule the election originally set for December 2018 to seize on chaos within opposition groups vying for the Venezuelan presidency.

Several Maduro opponents had been jailed or disqualified from running.  Moreover, charges were widespread a starving population had been won over by Maduro, who critics say bribed potential voters with food.

Following the vote, 14 nations, including Argentina, Brazil and Canada recalled ambassadors from Venezuela.

A nation which has suffered food shortages, power outages, hyperinflation, economic depression President Trump called for new elections to “end the repression” in the country.

“We call for the Maduro regime to restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people,” Trump said in a statement.

Condemning the election, the U.S. promptly slapped fresh sanctions on Caracas, prompting Maduro to expel two American diplomats on Tuesday.  Maduro described the removal of the diplomats as a “defense of the dignity of the homeland.”

“The empire doesn’t dominate us here,” he said, referring to an alleged U.S. attempt to meddle in the election. “We’ve had enough of your conspiring.”

One day later, in a response on Wednesday, the U.S. returned fire and expelled two Venezuelan envoys from the U.S.

 

[BBC] [AP via Yahoo] [CNN] [Photo courtesy Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock via The Guardian]