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Venezuela’s record-low voter turnout is the latest chapter in the death of its democracy

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro stands with supporters during a gathering after the results of the election were released
Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Nicolás Maduro: “The revolution is here to stay!”
  • Eshe Nelson
By Eshe Nelson

Economics & Markets Reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

To no one’s surprise, incumbent Nicolás Maduro won Venezuela’s presidential election yesterday. This gives him another six years in power, amid devastating hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, charges of corruption, and an all-round broken economy.

The election was the latest move by Maduro, 55, to consolidate power in the face of increasing opposition, which have included fatal protests. The country’s main opposition coalition called for a boycott of the vote, suspecting that it would be manipulated. The effect of the boycott can be seen in turnout figures, which the electoral commission—staffed with Maduro loyalists—put at 46%.

Even if these numbers were inflated, as the opposition claims, it would be the lowest turnout for a presidential election going back to 1958, when a military dictatorship ended in Venezuela. Historically, Venezuelans have been enthusiastic voters. In the four presidential elections between 1958 and 1973, turnout exceed 90%. Since then, it’s regularly been over 80%. It was 80% at the previous presidential election, in 2013, when Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez in a close-run vote that he won by a margin of less than two percentage points.

The Venezuelan election board said that Maduro won 68% of the votes cast yesterday, or 5.8 million votes, compared with 1.8 million for Henri Falcón, a former governor who broke with the opposition boycott to stand. After the vote, Falcón said he wouldn’t recognize the result, due to widespread irregularities.

Before the election, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said Colombians were being given Venezuelan IDs as part of a plan to transport them over the border to vote for Maduro. Santos said he wouldn’t recognize the outcome of the election. The US is considering sanctions against Venezuela’s oil sector, the nation’s main source of income, even though its already reeling and output is falling.

Last year, Maduro held a controversial election to form a constituent assembly, stacked with allies, that was charged with rewriting Venezuela’s constitution and, in practice, overriding the opposition-led National Assembly. Ahead of this latest presidential election, key opposition leaders were barred, in exile, or under house arrest. Last night, a triumphant Maduro happily told a crowd that “the revolution is here to stay!”

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