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Municipal elections in Venezuela most probably will confirm deeply divided country

Saturday, December 7th 2013 - 20:30 UTC
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The opposition is forecasted to take major cities but overall Maduro will win a majority of races The opposition is forecasted to take major cities but overall Maduro will win a majority of races

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says that winning Sunday's municipal elections is essential for continuing the country's socialist revolution and honoring the legacy of the late Hugo Chavez. For opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski, the vote is seen as a referendum on Maduro's economic policies, which he says are destroying the country.

 Venezuelans will elect 337 mayors and 2,435 council members in a vote Sunday that will likely produce no clear winners on the national stage and could deepen the political standoff in the deeply polarized country, which has the world's largest oil reserves.

The opposition is expected to make some gains, especially in Venezuela's largest cities, while Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will triumph in the more rural municipalities, says Tarek Yorde, a Caracas-based political consultant.

“Of the country's 33 largest cities, I think the opposition will win 20 to 25 of them,'' Yorde says. ”But the PSUV will win a majority of the races: 220 or so. The overall general vote will likely be close with a small margin of difference.“

Until last month, the opposition had been predicted to do better, especially in the face of mounting economic problems. Inflation is expected to close this year at more than 50%, the highest in the world. Shortages of basic foodstuffs — milk, corn meal, flour, cooking oil and meat — persist as Maduro has sought to limit imports to conserve the country's dwindling international reserves.

However, Maduro — who has blamed the country's opposition and its ”parasitical bourgeoisie“ of waging an economic war against his government — changed the game in November when he seized an appliance store and forced it to sell its stock at lower prices.

Since then, Maduro has ordered hundreds of large retailers to slash prices or face expropriation.

”The president's initiative has braked his fall in popularity,'' says Oscar Schemel, who heads the Hinterlaces polling agency. “The war against speculation has improved his image, and increased his positive rating.”

That should help the PSUV retain its leading role, he says.

Although criticized by many within his own party for handpicking actors, sports figures and people with little political experience to run in key cities, Maduro has gone out of his way to include Chavez in the campaign.

Chavez's image is found on all PSUV campaign literature. Maduro also created a new holiday to honor Chavez, which happens to fall on Sunday. Such moves have resonated with some voters.

The state television station has largely ignored opposition candidates in favor of heavy coverage of their PSUV rivals, while the government has ramped up spending to alleviate shortages.

And Maduro has been holding almost daily addresses, which — by law — have to be carried by the country's broadcasters. Such steps led one of the board members of the country's national election agency to complain that Maduro and the PSUV have an unfair advantage.

Many races may be decided on what side gets out the vote. To boost participation, all baseball games have been canceled for Sunday, and many shopping malls will also be closed.

Still, the abstention rate is likely to be between 40% and 45%, compared with 20% in the special presidential vote in April in which Maduro narrowly beat Capriles, who has yet to recognize his defeat, charging fraud.

“A high abstention rate is going to hurt the opposition more than the government,” Schemel says.

Among the most closely watched races will be ones for mayor in Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia, the country's three largest cities. Two of the three are currently held by the PSUV, and any change would give a boost to the winning side.

Still, the real significance of the vote may only occur after the New Year when Venezuela's fiscal problems could come to a head, especially if the central government has to make costly cuts to spending, which could affect states and local governments.

Top Comments

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  • Brasileiro

    Comment removed by the editor.

    Dec 07th, 2013 - 09:01 pm 0
  • Anglotino

    And people think Venezuela is a functioning democracy.

    There's more to a democracy than just letting people tick a box.

    Dec 07th, 2013 - 09:26 pm 0
  • Be serious

    Good way to unite the err.... people.

    Dec 08th, 2013 - 08:47 am 0
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