Venezuela awaits re­sults of elec­tion

The op­po­si­tion is ex­pected to pick up a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of the assem­bly seats.

Los Angeles Times - - The World - Mery Mo­gol­lon re­port­ing from cara­cas, venezuela Chris Kraul re­port­ing from Bo­gota, Colom­bia Mo­gol­lon and Kraul are spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents.

Venezue­lans on Sun­day night anx­iously awaited re­sults of the Na­tional Assem­bly elec­tions, widely seen as a ref­er­en­dum on the per­for­mance of Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez.

The Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil did not im­me­di­ately re­lease the re­sults of the races for 165 seats in the uni­cam­eral congress. Al­though there were scat­tered com­plaints about vot­ers missing from reg­is­tra­tion lists and long lines, bal­lot­ing was gen­er­ally peace­ful and with­out in­ci­dent.

Op­po­si­tion can­di­dates agreed to unite un­der the Demo­cratic Unity Ta­ble ban­ner and were ex­pected to pick up a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of the 165 seats. It’s a con­trast from the last assem­bly elec­tion in 2005, when Chavez op­po­nents boy­cotted the vote, claim­ing a lack of trans­parency, and gave Chavez loy­al­ists near 100% con­trol.

Re­cent polls show in­creased dis­en­chant­ment with Chavez. A wave of vi­o­lence, par­tic­u­larly in Cara­cas, the cap­i­tal, has made the coun­try among the world’s most crime-rid­den.

Al­though poverty and il­lit­er­acy lev­els have dropped, the econ­omy is a shambles with a 30% in­fla­tion rate, Latin Amer­ica’s high­est, amid de­clin­ing in­dus­trial and agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

Chavez voted in the morn­ing at Manuel Pala­cio Fajardo School in the gritty “23rd of Jan­uary” bar­rio, his pre­ferred polling place. He in­vited Venezue­lans to “come and vote and know your vote will be re­spected.”

“Here democ­racy is com­plete. If you want to throw Chavez out, go ahead and gather sig­na­tures,” Chavez told re­porters, re­fer­ring to a law un­der which lead­ers can face re­call ref­er­en­dums if op­po­nents gather enough sig­na­tures.

Javier Cor­rales, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Amherst Col­lege, said he ex­pected Chavez’s al­lies in the PSUV, the Span­ish ini­tials for Venezuela’s Only So­cial­ist Party, to re­tain con­trol even if op­po­si­tion can­di­dates garner a ma­jor­ity of bal­lots cast.

He said an elec­toral law passed last year that re­set assem­bly district lim­its and ap­por­tioned added rep­re­sen­ta­tional weight to those in which Chavez’s sup­port is strong could make tak­ing con­trol of the assem­bly a long shot.

“The govern­ment is fac­ing the high­est de­gree of un­pop­u­lar­ity since 2003,” Cor­rales said. “But at the same time, it has acquired more mech­a­nisms to pro­tect its stran­gle­hold on power. The govern­ment al­ways finds a way to con­tain it, and this elec­tion is no ex­cep­tion.”

Much of Venezuela was hit by heavy rain Sun­day, pos­si­bly af­fect­ing voter turnout, which was ex­pected to play a crit­i­cal role in the out­come.

Among the can­di­dates run­ning to rep­re­sent the cap­i­tal was Stalin Gon­za­lez, a stu­dent leader who gained na­tional promi­nence in 2007 for or­ga­niz­ing protests against Chavez’s re­fusal to ex­tend the broad­cast li­cense of op­po­si­tion TV sta­tion RCTV.

An­a­lysts are fo­cus­ing on the per­for­mance of can­di­dates of the PPT, a splin­ter group that once sup­ported Chavez, and which now presents it­self to vot­ers as a so­cial­ist al­ter­na­tive. Can­di­dates in­clude PPT gen­eral sec­re­tary Jose Al­bornoz and Cen­tral Uni­ver­sity of Venezuela pro­fes­sor Mar­garita Maya Lopez, once an ar­dent Chavez fol­lower.

AT THE POLLING STA­TION: Elec­toral work­ers check ID cards in Mara­caibo, Venezuela. Aside from scat­tered com­plaints about names missing from reg­is­tra­tion lists, bal­lot­ing was gen­er­ally with­out in­ci­dent.

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