Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro obviously won another six-year term on Sunday, however his fundamental adversaries disavowed the election alleging massive irregularities.
Reeling under a devastating economic crisis, only 46 percent of voters turned out to cast ballots in an election boycotted by the opposition and condemned by much of the international community, but one that hands Maduro a second term until 2025.
Victory for the 55-year-old may trigger a new round of western sanctions against the socialist government as it grapples with a ruinous economic crisis.
Reeling from a fifth year of recession, falling oil production and US sanctions, Venezuela is seeing growing levels of malnutrition and hyperinflation, and mass emigration.
“We do not recognize this electoral process as valid, as true,” his main rival Henri Falcon told a news conference, even before the result was announced.
“For us, there were no elections. We have to have new elections in Venezuela.”
Maduro hailed his victory for another six-year term as a “historic record” in a speech to thousands of cheering supporters outside the official Miraflores Palace in Caracas.
“Never before has a presidential candidate taken 68 percent of the popular vote,” he said, to applause.
“We won again! We triumphed again! We are the force of history turned into a permanent popular victory,” said Maduro.
The official result gave Maduro 67.7 percent of the vote, with Falcon a distant second at 21.2 percent. In the last opinion polls before the vote, the pair were running neck-and-neck.
Third-placed Javier Bertucci, an evangelist preacher who polled around 11 percent, joined in the call for new elections.
Hundreds of Venezuelans took to the streets in several Latin American capitals, including Bogota, Buenos Aires and Lima — as well as in Madrid — to denounce the vote.
The biggest protest was in Chile’s capital Santiago, where more than 1,000 demonstrated against the election. Chile granted 73,000 visas to Venezuelans fleeing the country last year.
Falcon said fresh elections could be held in November or December, when they are traditionally contested, but they were moved up this year by the country’s all-powerful and pro-government Constituent Assembly, catching the divided and weakened opposition off-guard.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition has won support from the United States, the European Union and 14 countries of the Lima Group who called for the vote to be postponed.