Former bus driver Nicolas Maduro won another six years as Venezuela’s President Sunday, after the main opposition party boycotted the vote and two of his man challengers were barred from taking part.
Maduro won 68 percent of the votes in a three-way runoff with former state governor Henri Falcón and evangelical pastor and businessman Javier Bertucci.
“This was a historic day. The day of a beautiful victory,” Maduro told his supporters in front of the presidential palace in Caracas.
“They underestimated me,” he said. “Never before has a presidential candidate taken 68 percent of the popular vote. We are the force of history turned into a permanent popular victory.”
But the vote was criticized as a sham, with the Democratic Unity Roundtable — with the main opposition coalition — boycotting the vote, while opposition leaders Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez were not allowed to run after they boycotted last year’s mayoral elections.
“We do not recognize this electoral process as valid,” Falcón told local media. “There must be new elections in Venezuela.”
Was the vote a sham?
According to election officials, just 46.1 percent of voters cast their ballot, far fewer than the expected turnout of 48 percent, and well below the 80 percent who voted in the 2013 election prompted by the death of Hugo Chavez.
But opposition leaders have claimed that official figure is inflated and the real turnout was close to 30 percent.
In a bid to boost turnout figures, polling stations were kept open beyond the official closing time of 6 p.m., with Telesur, the state broadcaster, announcing they would stay open “as long as there are people in line to cast their vote.”
What are Red Spots?
Due to food shortages, the government has been distributing food boxes to citizens from “Red Spots.” After casting their votes Sunday, citizens visited these so-called Red Spots, which were set up near polling stations. Voters were asked to present the identity cards they use to collect food as a way for officials to keep track of who had voted. Falcón said this process violated election rules.
What has the reaction been?
The U.S. Mission to the U.N. slammed Sunday’s vote, saying the “so-called ‘election’ in Venezuela is an insult to democracy,” adding: “We will continue to stand with the Venezuelan people fighting for a brighter future for their country. It's time for Maduro to go.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the vote a “sham,” while Florida Senator Marco Rubio attacked a Maduro tweet claiming “peace and democracy have triumphed.”
“The only mafia in Venezuela is their regime,” Rubio clapped back. “Today is the beginning of its end.”
Elsewhere, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said “like the majority of democratic countries,” Santiago would not recognize the vote as “it does not represent the free and sovereign will of the people.”
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla criticized “electoral fraud in Venezuela,” calling for the “retreat of ambassadors, and sanctions on members of the regime.”
What happens next?
Maduro has overseen a period of unprecedented economic woe and spiraling inflation, which is unlikely to end.
Along with hyperinflation, Venezuelans are suffering through food and medicine shortages, rising crime and water, power and transportation networks that simply don’t work.
The IMF has predicted that inflation could reach 13,000 percent this year, far-and-away the highest rate in the world.
The U.S. has already slapped sanctions on the beleaguered nation, but election observers from the EU and U.S. have indicated further sanctions may be imposed if the democratic process was seen to be undermined.
For Venezuela’s opposition, the fight will continue. “We will continue our fight. Politics is permanent, and we will keep fighting in the General Assembly. [We will respond from here] against this fraud,” Rachid Yasbek, a member of the MUD, told Al Jazeera.
Cover image: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gestures after the National Electoral Council announced the results of the voting on election day in Venezuela, on May 20, 2018. (Juan BARRETO / AFP)