Speaking Sunday, the president extended an invitation to a “good yield” of elected opposition governors and mayors to visit the Presidential Palace and discuss “specific problems in their states and municipalities.” Among those invited was Manuel Rosales, who ran against Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez in 2006 and was re-elected Zulia state governor last Sunday.
Maduro also took the opportunity to encourage leftwing forces to “forgive everything we have to forgive” and “unite,” announcing a pact to “rectify and re-found the revolution.” Beyond asking winning and losing government candidates to sign it, the president offered no details on the purported agreement. Recently, government policies have been the subject of fierce debate and criticism both within the ranks of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) and from other leftist forces.
Pro-government forces won 19 of the 22 governorships, with one left to decide, and 63% of mayoralties in Sunday’s “mega-elections,” as well as similar majorities of regional legislators and local councilors. The PSUV, however, won only 46% of the total votes cast. It is the first time that the ruling party has failed to win a majority of votes since 2015.
The hard-right Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and more moderate Democratic Alliance won 26% and 16% of the total votes, taking two and one governorships, respectively. Likewise, a handful of independent opposition candidates recorded larger-than-expected results, such as the Neighborhood Force party. National Electoral Council (CNE) data indicates that unified opposition efforts may have defeated PSUV candidates in as many as fifteen additional states.
In the aftermath of the vote, leading opposition politician Juan Guaidó also made a call for unity, telling reporters that “the immediate task at hand is to reunite these forces which clearly confront the [so-called] dictatorship.”
Despite his call for unity, the self-declared “interim president” took aim at the competing Democratic Alliance bloc, claiming that it is made up of “parties which have been hijacked by the [so-called] dictator and the majority of them are even financed by the government.”
The regional and local elections were overseen by hundreds of international observers from 55 countries, and were largely held in a civic and peaceful manner.
One of the organizations accompanying the election was the European Union (EU), which sent a 136-strong mission to evaluate both pre- and post-election conditions for the first time in 15 years. The EU team published a preliminary report last week which highlighted what it considered to be “better” electoral conditions but pointed to an unfair playing field during campaigning, specifically in irregular candidate disqualification outside the established timeline, as well as uneven media coverage and campaign financing. The final report is due to be presented in early 2022.
Hitting back, Maduro argued that last week’s election was “impeccable,” and that the EU mission had failed in its efforts to “stain” the process.
He went on to accuse the mission, which was led by Portuguese Socialist Eurodeputy Isabel Santos, of “spying.” “They deployed themselves across the country freely, spying on social, economic and political life,” the president claimed during a televised broadcast.
Disputes in Barinas and Zulia states
EU observers are currently centered in Venezuela’s Barinas state, where CNE authorities are under pressure after the Supreme Court (TSJ) ordered the ballot be held again.
According to the ruling on Monday, last Sunday’s results, which the TSJ claims narrowly favored MUD politician Freddy Superlano, are to be annulled and the vote is to be repeated on January 9, 2022. The ruling follows an earlier one suspending a planned CNE recount, and also stipulates that Superlano was ruled ineligible to hold public office by the comptroller’s office on August 17. According to the TSJ, the decision was based on a 2013 ruling, but no further details were offered by either the Supreme Court or comptroller. Electoral authorities had previously established a timeline to review candidates’ eligibility to run which expired in September. Following the ruling, Superlano will not be able to run again in January. Other votes in Barinas state, including for mayors, legislators and councilors, are not to be repeated.
The results of the Barinas governor election were yet to be announced by the CNE following alleged tallying problems. Despite PSUV candidate Argenis Chávez leading with 10% of the votes left to count, later figures placed Superlano ahead with one municipality left to tally. Normally rapid electronic tallying was reportedly hampered by lost voting machines, missing paper backups and administrative problems caused by the expiration of local jurisdiction. The delay had sparked accusations of CNE partiality and has caused tension in several towns in Barinas, with Superlano calling for street protests.
The state is symbolically important to the government being the home region of former president Hugo Chávez. Both Superlano and Argenis Chávez, who is Hugo Chávez’s brother, had claimed victory. Neither have commented on the TSJ ruling at the time of writing.
Electoral results were likewise disputed in Jesús María Semprun municipality in Zulia state, where residents held a march and other protests to demand the impugnation of the process over the weekend. A formal request for electoral authorities to repeat the election has also been lodged by the Communist Party (PCV).
Voting in the locality was reportedly halted for many hours on election day after violent outbreaks forced police to use tear gas. Incumbent PSUV Mayor Keyrineth Fernández, who has been blamed for instigating the violence, was later declared victorious by the CNE with 47% and a margin of 757 votes. The PCV, whose candidate reportedly won 42%, claims that over 800 voters in the sparsely populated region were unable to vote due to the turmoil.