Lucas Koerner, Caracas, May 21, 2018 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was elected to a second term Sunday with 6.2 million votes, beating out his closest rival Henri Falcon, who garnered just 1.9 million votes.
Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the result shortly after 10pm Sunday evening, revealing that Maduro had won with 67.79 percent of all votes cast, ahead of opposition contenders Henri Falcon, Javier Bertucci, and Reinaldo Quijada, who won 21.01, 10.82, and 0.39 percent, respectively.
Despite a boycott by the main opposition parties of the right-wing Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition, turnout was 46 percent, with 9,085,629 of Venezuela’s 20,527,571 registered voters casting ballots.
Speaking Sunday evening, CNE President Tibisay Lucena called for respecting the outcome of the vote, which she said reflects “the will of Venezuelans.”
“The people have decided,” she told the nation.
On Monday an international observer mission led by the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America (CEELA), comprised of former top electoral officials from throughout the region, said the election was clean.
“Technically, up until today, we have not observed any element that could disqualify the electoral process,” said CEELA President Nicanor Moscoso in a press conference.
“We can emphasize that these elections must be recognized, because they are the result of the will of the Venezuelan people,” he added.
Prior to Sunday, CEELA observers participated in all fourteen of the pre-election audits conducted by the CNE in conjunction with all participating political parties, in addition to overseeing the “hot audit” of 54.4 percent of all voting machines mandatorily carried out on election day.
Faced with a clear defeat at the polls on Sunday night, opposition presidential frontrunner Henri Falcon refused to recognize the results.
Prior to the announcement of the official results, the former Lara State governor gave a press conference, in which he called the vote “illegitimate,” demanding new elections in October.
“We do not recognize this electoral process, and we brand it as illegitimate,” he stated.
In particular, Falcon accused the government of violating a series of electoral guarantees agreed to in March through the use of “red points”, which are kiosks set up by United Socialist Party activists near electoral centers where pro-government voters are encouraged to check in after voting for the purposes of exit polling.
The opposition candidate did not, however, specify how the use of “red points”, which has been a standard feature of the ruling party’s mobilization strategy for years, affected the election result.
Falcon did denounce abstention, which was being actively promoted by the MUD, as one of the causes of his defeat, saying that the boycott had “left behind an extraordinary opportunity.”
Evangelical candidate to the presidency Javier Bertucci likewise initially rejected the results “on account of the red points,” which he said were “bribing people with food and money.”
For his part, Maduro called on his opponents to recognize the election result and join him in a dialogue for “national reconciliation.”
“I call on all of the presidential candidates who participated in the election of May 20… to a meeting for dialogue in order to establish a constructive agenda,” he said on Monday.
The call for dialogue was seconded by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, who offered to mediate any future talks.
Zapatero, who facilitated the previous round of government-opposition dialogue in the Dominican Republic in January, said that Sunday’s vote had gone forward “peacefully” and opposition candidates should direct any complaints they have regarding the electoral process through the appropriate institution channels.
Responding to the outcome on Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence called the election “a sham.”
“Venezuela’s election was a sham — neither free nor fair. The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela,” he stated. The vice president did not, however, cite evidence to support the allegations of fraud.
Following Venezuela’s announcement of presidential elections this past February, the Trump administration has repeatedly made clear its refusal to recognize the vote, despite the Maduro government agreeing to a series of electoral guarantees with opposition parties, including moving up the date to May 20, among other agreements.
Sunday’s result was similarly rejected by the bloc of regional right-leaning governments known as the “Lima Group,” which includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Santa Lucia.
In a statement released Monday, the group vowed to recall their ambassadors to Caracas for consultations and present a new resolution on Venezuela at the next meeting of the Organization of American States.
The 14-member bloc additionally resolved to “coordinate actions in order that international and regional financial organisms do not grant loans to the Venezuelan government” in a bid to increase the pressure on the re-elected Maduro administration.
Meanwhile, Maduro’s victory was recognized by a number of close Venezuelan allies, including Cuba, Bolivia, El Salvador, Iran, Russia, and Nicaragua.
“The parties involved must respect the decision of the Venezuelan people,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang at a press conference in Beijing on Monday.
Similarly, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Latin America director, Alexander Schetinin, called the outcome “irreversible” and denounced Washington and other governments “who openly called for a boycott of the vote.”
“The elections have been held and their results have an irreversible character: two-thirds of the votes went to the current president of the country, Nicolás Maduro,” he concluded.
Maduro will be formally sworn in on January 10, 2019, when his six-year term officially expires.