Venezuela’s regional elections see low turnout as opposition returns

People queue to take part in the election for state governors and local mayors, in Caracas, Venezuela November 21, 2021. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

November 21, 2021

By Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) -Low numbers of voters took part in Venezuela’s regional elections on Sunday while electoral authorities reported “small and isolated difficulties,” in elections that mark the return of opposition politicians after four years’ absence.

During the elections, over 3,000 state governors, mayors and city councils will be chosen across the South American country, which is beset by a long-running recession and hyperinflation.

The vote will test the impartiality of Venezuela’s electoral commission, which in May included two opponents among its top five directors, making it the most balanced board in 17 years, its members have said.

The 14,000 polling stations across Venezuela were slated to open by 6:00 a.m. local time (1000 GMT), however a number did not open until midday due to voting officials arriving late.

Some voters complained they did not appear on electoral lists, or that their center had been changed without their knowledge. Others said they had been denied entry to vote because of the way they were dressed.

Such issues were few and far between, said electoral commission president Pedro Calzadilla, adding that “participation has been good,” though without supplying a voter turnout percentage.

Participation in Venezuela’s regional elections normally hits between 40% and 45%, according to pollsters.

European Union election observers will be present at around 1,000 of the 14,400 voting centers, the first such European mission since 2006.

Opposition politicians had boycotted presidential elections and parliamentary elections in 2018 and 2020 respectively accusing President Nicolas Maduro’s government of fraud.

If the opposition loses the 4 state governorships they won in 2017, they will lack a powerbase for campaigning in 2024’s presidential elections.

Last month Maduro suspended talks held in Mexico with the U.S.-backed opposition following the extradition of government ally Alex Saab. After voting, the president said he would not return to talks until Saab was freed.

In Maracaibo, capital of Zulia state, which is one of the regions most affected by electricity, water and fuel shortages, small groups of voters walked or cycled to polling stations due to lack of public transportation and gasoline.

“We’re going to vote, even on foot, because we’re fed up,” said 68-year-old pensioner Ernesto Urdaneta.

Some 5 million Venezuelans have left the country due to its long-running economic crisis and hundreds continue to join caravans passing through Central America and Mexico headed for the United States.

“I have never seen so much hunger and misery, every day children and the elderly pass my home asking for some rice or bread, it’s horrible and this must change,” said unemployed security guard Nerio Subero, 70, in the city of Ciudad Bolivar.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas in Caracas; Additional reporting by Mariela Nava in Maracaibo, Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal, and Maria Ramirez in Ciudad Bolivar.)Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)

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