Venezuela's opposition party, after major election defeat, turns to rebuilding

CARACAS – Venezuela’s opposition needs to rebuild and rethink its strategy after suffering a heavy loss in regional elections over the weekend, its leader Juan Guaidó said Monday, calling for unity under the leadership of the fragmented movement.

Venezuela’s ruling party has won at least 18 governorships from 23 states, according to updated election results released Monday by the National Electoral Council (CNE in Spanish).

The electoral authority had previously declared the ruling party the winner in 20 gubernatorial elections. But close elections in the states of Barinas and Apure, which traditionally support the Socialist Party, led the CNE to later say that these results have yet to be confirmed.

So far, opposition politicians have only won three states.

The main opposition parties had boycotted the 2018 presidential and 2020 congressional elections, arguing that a fair election was impossible due to the interference of President Nicolás Maduro’s government and violent gangs loyal to him.

But they do back to the ballot box this year amid frustration over the failure of US sanctions to evict Maduro despite ongoing social and economic hardship.

The vote on Sunday was considered a test of strength before the presidential elections scheduled for 2024. The opposition was also encouraged by the presence of election observers from the European Union.

A preliminary report from the mission is due Tuesday, but there have been no major reports of disruptions.

However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Maduro’s administration of holding flawed elections that “falsified the process” to pre-determine the outcome in his party’s favor, citing harassment and bans on opposition candidates, electoral roll manipulation and censorship.

Guaidó, the former spokesman for Congress, recognized by Washington and its allies as the rightful leader of Venezuela, said Monday that the opposition must “rebuild itself” after the disappointing result.

“Today begins a new phase,” he said without giving any details. “Today is a time for reflection under our leadership … It is not a time for struggle or selfishness among political leaders.”

Analysts said ahead of the vote that the opposition’s late decision to participate and arguments over whether to field candidates would hurt their performance.

The opposition urgently needs to rethink its strategy in order to reconnect with the voters and polish up its credibility, said Enderson Sequera, head of the Venezuelan political consultancy.

“The conclusion of the (Sunday) vote in Venezuela is very clear: Chavismo is more stable in power and the democratic opposition is further removed from political change,” Sequera said, referring to the nickname for the ruling party that once dated President Hugo Chavez was later cited.

Trust needs to be rebuilt

Despite the opposition’s efforts to mobilize voters at the last minute, voter turnout was relatively low at 41.8 percent, according to the CNE. That corresponds to around 8.1 million people and corresponds to the previous local and regional elections. The low turnout in Venezuela favors the political machinery of the ruling Socialist Party, analysts say.

“The government has shown again that it remains in power despite the lack of public support because there is no opposition with a coordinated strategy,” said Maryhen Jiménez, researcher at the Latin America Center at Oxford University.

With living standards falling amid hyperinflation and a seven year recession, many ordinary Venezuelans have become disillusioned with politics. Millions of people have emigrated.

According to CNE figures, the number of supporters of the ruling party fell from around 5.9 million votes in the regional elections in 2017 to 3.7 million.

The oil-rich state of Zulia was won by the opposition politician Manuel Rosales with 56.1 percent of the vote. He said it was clear that Venezuela’s opposition movement was facing challenges.

“You can’t hide this crisis with smug speeches,” said Rosales, a lawyer and former presidential candidate, on Monday in Maracaibo, capital of Zulia.

The CNE has not yet announced any winners in the mayoral elections – with the exception of the capital Caracas, where the ruling party’s candidate has won.

Maduro said on Sunday that a return to negotiations with the Venezuelan opposition in Mexico would only take place after the “kidnapping” of a prominent government MP Alex Saab recently extradited to the US on money laundering allegations – is responsible.

The talks that began in August are intended to seek a way out of Venezuela’s economic and social crisis.

Guaidó said he was cautiously optimistic that the government would return to the table and that he was discussing ways with international allies to put pressure on Maduro’s government.

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