Maduro wins second term amid vote rigging claims

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Caracas, May 21 (IANS) Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been re-elected for a six-year term, shrugging off international condemnation and allegations of vote buying as well as electoral fraud.

Venezuela’s election board on Sunday put turnout at just 46.1 per cent but the opposition alleged it was even lower. The main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, rejected the result soon after the polls closed and called for new elections, the BBC reported on Monday.

“We do not recognise this electoral process as valid… we have to have new elections in Venezuela,” he said.

With more than 90 per cent of the votes counted, 55-year-old Maduro got 67.7 per cent — 5.8 million votes — National Electoral Council (CNE) chief Tibisay Lucena said. Falcón had won 21.2 per cent — 1.8 million votes.

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As polling started, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the election as a “sham” on Twitter. The US mission to the UN called the process an “insult to democracy” and Chile and Panama said that they would not recognise the result.

“Venezuela’s elections do not meet the minimum standards for a true democracy. They are not clean or legitimate elections and they do not represent the free and sovereign will of the Venezuelan people,” said Chile President Sebastian Pinera.

The EU and Latin American countries had also warned ahead of the vote that they would take measures against the government if it went ahead with the election.

Maduro, however, dismissed such criticisms in his late-night victory address. He told cheering crowds outside the presidential palace in Caracas that “the revolution is here to stay!”.

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“The whole of Venezuela has triumphed! Democracy has triumphed! Peace has triumphed! Constitutionality has triumphed (These were) elections that were constitutional, legitimate and legal,” he insisted, before claiming: “We have a President of the people! A working President!”

China asked that the decision of the Venezuelan people be respected. “The relevant parties should respect the choice made by the Venezuelan people,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said.

Australia urged all Venezuelan political parties to seek a solution to the country’s crisis through dialogue.

“Australia has expressed its deep concern to the government of Venezuela for the ongoing violence, deterioration of human rights and eroding respect for rule of law,” a spokesperson of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

The elections were supposed to be held in December 2018, but the CNE, made up exclusively of Maduro’s supporters, brought them forward.

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Luis Emilio Rondón, the one CNE member critical of the government, said he did not recognise the results because “Venezuelans’ freedom to vote” had not been respected.

–IANS

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