Venezuela president reelected amid vote-rigging claims

Venezuela‘s President Nicolás Maduro has won re-election to another six-year term, in a vote marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging.

Venezuela‘s President Nicolás Maduro Photo: AFP

Amid food shortages stemming from a severe economic crisis, just 46 percent of the electorate turned out to vote.

The main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, rejected the result soon after the polls closed.

“We do not recognise this electoral process as valid … we have to have new elections in Venezuela,” he said

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, Mr Maduro had 67.7 percent, National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena said.

Mr Falcón won 21.2 percent, she said.

“They underestimated me,” Mr Maduro told cheering supporters outside his presidential palace in Caracas, as fireworks went off and confetti was fired in the air.

Government officials said the polls were “free and fair” but most of the opposition joined a boycott against the poll.

The administration of the US President Donald Trump said it would not recognise the result. Posting on Twitter ahead of the vote, the US mission to the United Nations called the process an “insult to democracy”.

The elections were supposed to be held in December 2018, but the National Constituent Assembly, made up exclusively of Mr Maduro‘s supporters, brought them forward.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition said the elections were moved to take advantage of divisions within the coalition. Its two biggest candidates were also barred from running, and others have fled the country.

There are a handful of minor candidates but only Mr Falcón, a governor under late President Hugo Chávez, was seen as a viable alternative to President Maduro. He came from the same socialist party as President Maduro, but left in 2010 to join the opposition.

Mr Falcón, who ran despite the boycott, has said he believes the majority of Venezuelans want to remove Mr Maduro from office.

The rest of the opposition, however, has frowned on his breaking ranks – with some even branding him a traitor.

Was the election legitimate or not?

Part of the reason for the opposition boycott was the outcome of elections for state governorships last year. Mr Maduro‘s party won 17 of 23 states – and his opponents cried foul.

That was after the company that makes Venezuela‘s voting machines said, in July last year that the figures had been tampered with them during the controversial election of the constituent assembly.

It does not help that the electoral commission is mostly made up of government supporters – like the powerful constituent assembly and the supreme court.

Mr Maduro‘s camp has claimed that the election was a fair process.

International observers including the EU and US suggested they might impose sanctions on Venezuela if democracy was undermined, while some of Venezuela‘s Latin American neighbours said they might not officially recognise the outcome.

An economic crisis in the country has created an inflation rate measured at several hundred percent, while the economy has shrunk dramatically every year, creating a shortage of basics like food and medicine.

In some poorer parts of the country, 70 percent of children suffer from malnutrition.

The national currency, the bolívar, is virtually worthless, and long queues form at banks where there simply isn‘t enough cash to make purchases.

Residents carry large bags, filled with banknotes – or try to pay with cards where possible. Faced with the difficulties of life at home, hundreds of thousands have left the country – many to neighbouring Colombia or Brazil.