While the opposition won several key races in yesterday’s municipal elections in Venezuela, candidates allied with the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) won a majority of the total ballots cast, allowing President Nicolas Maduro to spin the vote as an electoral victory.
With 97 percent of the votes counted, Venezuelan election officials announced last night that the PSUV and allied parties won 49.24 percent of ballots, whereas the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and its allies won 42.72 percent. According to the National Electoral Council, turnout was around 58 percent.
El Nacional reports that the MUD won mayoral races in the cities of Maracaibo, Valencia and Barinas (the capital of Hugo Chavez’s home state). It also won the Metropolitan District of Caracas, giving it control over a total of five of the six municipal seats that govern the capital city. The PSUV held on to Libertador, the largest of Caracas’ five municipalities.
Despite losing several high-profile contests, the government is touting the fact that the PSUV maintained a majority of municipal seats. According to the state-run Correo del Orinoco, the PSUV now controls 210 of the country’s 337 mayoralties.
In a triumphant speech following the release of preliminary results, Maduro described the election as a “grand victory.” He also called on Capriles to “recognize that he has been defeated once again” and resign from his position as the head of the MUD. The forceful tone of Maduro’s speech stood in stark contrast to his gloomy address following his narrow win in elections last April, in which he and supporters appeared somber and almost bewildered by his lack of a clear electoral mandate. Capriles, meanwhile, gave a less celebratory speech, remarking that the results showed that Venezuelans “have a divided country, and this divided country belongs to all of us.”
At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, David Smilde offers this concise take on the municipal elections:
This result clearly gives Maduro some breathing room. Compared to where he was two months ago, with a government in a tail spin, he now looks like he is in control, having gotten past a major hurdle. The opposition clearly did not get the big plebiscite win that it sought. But it is in reasonable shape with a good showing in popular vote despite all of the campaign inequities. They gained ground in number of mayors and control many important capitals. This will give them space to provide an alternative model of governance and maintain their public profile. Maduro has gained some breathing room but 2014 is guaranteed to be a difficult year.
More analysis from the Wall Street Journal and The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, the latter of which notes that Maduro “now seems more firmly entrenched as president,” and is thus “more likely than not to complete his six-year term.”
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