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The Opposition Wins a Landmark Victory in Legislative Elections in Venezuela

The election marks the first time that the ruling socialist party has lost control of the legislature since Hugo Chávez took power nearly 17 years ago.
Photo de Fernando Llano/AP

Venezuela's opposition has won a majority in the country's legislature, delivering a major blow to the government of President Nicolás Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution started 17 years ago by his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez.

With 96% of the votes counted from Sunday's election the national electoral authorities announced that the opposition Roundtable of Unity, the MUD, had won 99 seats in the national legislature compared to 46 seats for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the PSUV.


There were still 22 seats where the winner was still not clear. Those results will determine whether the opposition can reach the 111 seats required to achieve an absolute majority in the 167-seat chamber. Either way it is the first time the ruling party has lost control of the legislature since Chávez took office in February 1999.

"Venezuela wanted a change and this change has now started," Jesús Chuo Torrealba said in a speech directly after the announcement of the first official results. "This was a deafening defeat for the government and a clear victory for democracy."

President Maduro accepted defeat in an address to the nation broadcast on all national TV networks.

"We have come here with our moral strength and our ethics to recognize these adverse results and to accept them," he said while sitting beside a Venezuelan flag and in front of a painting of Simon Bolivar — icon of the 19th century South American independence movement.

Related: Venezuela Is Not a 'National Security Threat' After All, Obama Says

As well as a blow to Chavismo in Venezuela, Sunday's result also represents a knock to a whole generation of Latin American left wing leaders who rose to power around the turn of the millennium but are now under pressure from struggling economies and corruption scandals.

Two weeks ago right wing businessman Mauricio Macri won Argentina's presidential elections, defeating the chosen candidate of sitting president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party is currently facing possible impeachment.


Related: Privilege, Trauma, Political Opportunity and Luck Mark Argentina's New President

In Venezuela the opposition was able to take advantage of a major economic downturn tied to the country's dependence on oil exports.

Chavismo had built its support base with the help of social programs and subsidies for the poor largely paid for by massive profits from oil revenues which have now plummeted because of the fall of the oil price. Today Venezuelans are suffering from acute shortages of basic goods that can only be accessed through many hours of queueing, and sometimes not even then. The country is also suffering triple digit inflation and rampant crime.

In his address to the nation, President Maduro blamed the ruling party's defeat on an "economic war" on the country carried out by "savage capitalism" and fuelled by a "disloyal" opposition.

Related: Venezuela Is Running Out of Everything — and Its Government Is Blaming Supermarket and Pharmacy Owners

But while Maduro's speech was filled with tough words, the president's quick recognition of defeat contrasted with the fiery warnings he had delivered before the election in which he said he would "never allow" an opposition victory.

Tension had also been running high ahead of polling day because of a number of violent incidents, including the assassination of an opposition leader during a campaign rally last month.

In the end polling day was largely calm and the ruling party appeared to pin its hopes for salvaging the day on getting out the vote in its bastions.


A vehicle with enormous loudspeakers awoke the electorate before dawn in the staunchly pro-government 23 de enero neighborhood in the capital, Caracas, reminding them of their civic duty.

"I came early in order to get the task done and do my duty by the revolution," Ana Sanz told VICE News as she waited for the doors to open at one polling station at 6am. "We are fighting the fight, with votes."

But opponents also rose early.

"I hope there is a change," said Antonio Hernández, waiting to vote in another poor neighborhood in Caracas called Coche. "This country has suffered too much and we need a change because we can't cope with more."

Beyond the crowds around polling stations and filling the odd restaurant that opened its doors, Caracas appeared like a ghost town for most of the day with its streets empty and shopping malls closed.

The noise did not return until the results were announced and opposition supporters took to the streets setting off fireworks, honking car horns and waving Venezuelan flags.

Related: Venezuela's President Says He Will 'Never Allow' the Opposition to Win Sunday's Vote

Follow Alicia Hernandez on Twitter @por_puesto