Caracas (AP) – In the midst of a severe political and economic crisis, Venezuelans have elected a new parliament. Observers assumed that President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist party PSUV should gain a majority.
Large sections of the opposition boycotted the vote on Sunday because they expected fraud. The Organization of American States (OAS) had already stated before the election that the conditions for free and fair elections were not fulfilled.
Maduro called on the international community to accept the election results. “We respect people’s right to self-determination,” he wrote on Twitter. “We demand respect for the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people.”
If the majority in parliament goes to the government supporters, as expected, the opposition would lose the last state institution in the South American country. Without a majority in the National Assembly, the legitimacy of self-appointed interim president Juan Guaidó is likely to be questioned.
According to the opposition, numerous Venezuelans have followed their call for boycotts. Voter turnout was below 20 percent, said Juan Pablo Guanipa, vice president of the National Assembly. The polling station has extended the opening hours of the polling stations by one hour in the evening.
“The election is a fraud of the dictatorship led by Nicolás Maduro and will only exacerbate the crisis in the country,” Julio Borges, foreign minister of Guaidó’s counter-government, wrote in an open letter to the international community on Sunday. “What Venezuela needs is free presidential and parliamentary elections.”
Venezuela is in a deep crisis. Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president in early 2019 and was recognized by numerous countries – including Germany and the US – as a legitimate head of state. However, he has not yet managed to defend himself against Maduro. The authoritarian ruling head of state is supported by the powerful army in the power struggle. The United Nations accuses the security forces of serious human rights violations.
While Guaidó had initially managed to unite the opposition behind him, the rifts between moderate opponents of the government and hardliners re-emerged with persistent failure. Should Maduro now also get a majority in the National Assembly, he would once again have all major state powers under his control. Once again he would have managed to simply sit out the revolt against his authoritarian government.
Meanwhile, the once rich country is plunging deeper into a humanitarian crisis. Due to lack of foreign currency and numerous sanctions, it can barely import food, medicines and daily necessities. Even gasoline is now in short supply in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world. According to a study by the Catholic University of Andrés Bello, 96 percent of households live in poverty. Millions of Venezuelans have left their homes.