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Venezuela’s Socialist party wins landslide victory in mayoral elections, election board says

By Rachelle Krygier and Anthony Faiola Washington Post

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s pro-government election board said the ruling Socialist party won a landslide victory in Sunday’s mayoral elections, strengthening President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power ahead of next year’s presidential race, in which he is expected to run.

With 97 percent of the vote counted, the election board – citing a 47 percent turnout – said government candidates had won more than 98 percent of municipalities up for grabs.

The outcome was largely expected, and highlighted Maduro’s fractured and weakened political opposition in a nation facing dire shortages of food and medical supplies as well as the world’s highest inflation rate. The three main opposition parties boycotted Sunday’s vote, although several others participated.

“We’ve won more than 300 municipalities of the 335,” Maduro said late Sunday in front of a crowd in Bolivar Square near the presidential palace in Caracas. “Popular victory, free and sovereign.”

Opposition candidates who did run noted a flurry of irregularities Sunday. But the claims were more muted than they were during July’s vote, which created a new, all-powerful legislative body that is now stocked with Maduro loyalists, and which was widely condemned as fraudulent.

The opposition decried the kind of intimidation tactics that also marred October’s vote for state governors, and in which government candidates made major gains. At a polling center in Venezuela’s eastern Chacao district on Sunday, for instance, armed pro-government civilian militias, known as “colectivos,” roamed the streets, taking pictures of voters. Turnout in polling centers near the capital appeared low, a sign, observers say, of voters’ widespread frustration.

“The fact that you see no long lines here is worrying,” said Virgilio Hernandez, a businessman who voted at a school in Chacao. “But I never considered not voting. You think about your children, your grandchildren. I remember the good years here in Caracas and I want them to see that someday.”

But, he added, “the opposition has lost support. We need a new leader.”

Even though campaigning was prohibited Sunday, state TV showed images of people voting while promoting hashtags such as #PerfectVictory. Posters of the pro-government candidate, as well as Maduro, with the slogan “Loyalty and Future,” were hung outside a voting center in western Caracas. Nearby, pro-government voters were registering their special IDs, called “Homeland IDs.” Critics say the need to supply such IDs has led some voters to fear that they would be cut off from state benefits if they did not show up or they voted against the government.

Several of the main opposition leaders who are normally vocal on election days – including Henrique Capriles, a former presidential candidate, and Julio Borges, president of the opposition-led national assembly – remained mostly silent Sunday.

In October’s vote for state governors, critics said the opposition had miscalculated by participating – something that seemed to validate the government’s broad wins. Government critics applauded those who abstained from voting on Sunday. But those opposition parties that did participate urged supporters on social media to vote.

“The reality is we have a devastated country that needs concrete solutions within the constitution,” said Henri Falcon, a former governor of the interior state of Lara, who lost his bid for reelection in October. “This is the scenario, the democratic scenario, the peaceful fight.”

In some cases, opposition politicians choose to run despite their parties’ boycott of the elections. One of them, Yon Goicochea – who recently was freed after spending a year in prison – ran for mayor in the municipality of El Hatillo, southeast of Caracas. Late in the day, he said in a tweet and a voice message transmitted through social media that at least one polling station in his district remained open after the 6 p.m. cutoff.

“The reason it is staying open is that they’re going to bring buses with voters, buses that belong to the government which is also a violation to the electoral law,” Goicochea said.

The election board also announced Sunday that the government’s candidate had won in the governor’s race in the state of Zulia. A special election was called there after the opposition candidate who won in October refused to be sworn in before the Constituent Assembly, a pro-government legislative body created in July.

Maduro, speaking on national television, insisted that those who boycotted the election would be shut out of the electoral system in the future.

“Parties that didn’t participate today cannot participate anymore,” he said, predicting that the two main opposition parties “will disappear.”

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