The anti-socialist Venezuelan opposition has cemented a majority hold on the National Assembly following national elections on Sunday night. While the government has officially accepted the results of the election, many still fear oppression and violence in response to the overwhelming rejection of Chavismo displayed in the polls.
In an official announcement issued long past midnight Monday, National Electoral Commission head Tibisay Lucena announced that the Democratic Union Table (MUD), the opposition party, secured 99 seats in the nation’s legislature to the Socialist Party (PSUV)’s 46. Twenty-two seats are still in contention as the vote counts continue; Lucena attributed this to votes coming from remote, indigenous communities. It is the first time in 16 years – since the rise of late dictator Hugo Chávez – that the opposition trumps the Socialist Party in the polls. Lucena described the vote as “extraordinary.”
Despite a confirmed victory, the opposition documented a number of irregularities in the vote, which many fear will result in some winning deputies being denied their seats among the 22 still-to-be-confirmed winners. The nation’s Election Commission allowed the extension of voting time for an extra hour on Sunday, despite a visible lack of voters lining up waiting. Election Commission rules allow for the extension of voting hours only when voters arrive to the voting station before the doors close and do not reach voting machines in time due to overcrowding. Both opposition leaders and members of the Election Commission deemed the extended hours “illegal” and “above the law.”
A coalition of electoral observers comprised of former Latin American presidents were also expelled from the nation in the process of observing the election. Late into the election day, Lucena told the coalition, which included ex-Presidents Jorge Quiroga of Bolivia, Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, and Mireya Moscoso of Panama, that their credentials as observers had been revoked. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez later tweeted that the observers had been “disrespectful,” though no elaboration was ever given.
In another report of abnormalities, voters told media outlets some had experienced voting machines “eating” their ballots and were unsure if their votes counted. The Electoral Commission also expelled journalists from a press conference scheduled shortly after polls closed, though eventually Lucena did appear before the media and issued an announcement detailing the vote counts as they stood overnight.
Despite these concerns, the leadership of the opposition is celebrating. MUD spokesman Julio Borges told reporters that the party expected to have control of 111 seats by the end of vote counting. Whether the socialist party will allow them to take their oath and assume their rightful positions remains to be seen, as they have previously ejected members of the Assembly for holding anti-socialist views. Maria Corina Machado, an opposition legislator, was stripped of her position for attending a peaceful anti-socialist rally, and she was later attacked with tear gas for attempting to return to her office and collect her belongings.
President Nicolás Maduro conceded defeat. “With our morals, with our ethics, we will recognize these adverse results, and accept them and tell our Venezuela that the Constitution and democracy has triumphed,” Maduro said in a televised address late Sunday. He attributed the opposition’s support to the “economic war” that “they” wage on Venezuela through “savage capitalism, the hiding of products [and] … the terror they put in the economic lives of our people.” Maduro has repeatedly blamed the United States for the havoc that socialist price controls and the use of ration cards have inflicted on the Venezuelan economy, which has been suffering hyperinflation for the better part of a year.
The announcement stood in stark contrast to Maduro’s warning before the election that he “will not hand over the Revolution” and that a loss in the legislative elections would result in a “civil-military” government, which the opposition took as a threat of violence. That threat appeared significantly more solid following the death of Luis Manuel Díaz, a regional opposition leader who was shot dead in broad daylight while attending an opposition political rally. He was killed standing next to Lilian Tintori, the wife of political prisoner Leopoldo López, leader of the opposition party Popular Will. Díaz’s murder is widely believed to have been the work of Chavista gangs, though the Maduro government has claimed the deceased was, himself, a “delinquent.”