Nicolas Maduro re-elected as Venezuelan leader despite opposition and US protest
Nicolas Maduro unsurprisingly won Sunday’s Venezuelan presidential election, securing a new six-year term. Former vice president for the late Hugo Chavez gained 68 percent of the vote, according to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE).
His closest contender Henri Falcon, a former Socialist party member who later joined the opposition, was in second place with 21.2 percent. Javier Bertucci came third with 10 percent of the vote.
The election was marred by a low turnout (46.1 percent), a drastic drop from the 80 percent in the last presidential ballot in 2013. Opposition party alliance The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) claimed that the participation only stood at 30 percent.
Opposition parties and the U.S call the election results ”illegitimate.”
Venezuela’s opposition parties tried their best to boycott the election. The MUD petitioned voters not to go to the polling booth, as a protest against an electoral system they consider rigged for Maduro.
The MUD announced its own estimation of the voter turnout in Venezuela, which they estimated to be at less than 30 percent. MUD took the low turnout as a sign of success, “Maduro has been overwhelmingly defeated by citizens who did not accept blackmail, pressure or intimidation,” stated Victor Marquez, a member of the Ample Front movement within the MUD.
Maduro declared his win “historic” and “record breaking.” He mocked the opposition’s call to boycott the election as an effort to underestimate him.
“They underestimated me,” the 55-year-old leader said to his supporters outside the presidential palace in Caracas.
The election divided an already troubled and polarized country which has been plagued by a prolonged economic crisis triggered in 2014 by a drop in oil prices.
Despite the current economic crisis, many voters stood by Maduro. “I’m hungry and don’t have a job, but I’m sticking to Maduro,” said Carlos Rincones, 49, to Reuters.
Some slammed the opposition parties for not showing unity to solve the prolonged crisis.
The U.S is preparing a new sanction
The U.S stated it would not recognize the result of the election, labeling the election a ”sham.” On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that blocks Americans from purchasing Venezuelan debt and prevents the Venezuelan government from liquidating some assets.
“We call for the Maduro regime to restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people,” Trump said in a statement.
“Today’s executive order closes another avenue for corruption that we have observed being used,” one senior US official told the press on Monday.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza slammed the actions, calling them “illegal measures” and claiming they are against international laws.
“(The sanctions) are madness, barbaric, and in absolute contradiction to international law,” A short statement from Arreaza said.
The U.S. Treasury sanctions in early 2018 targeted the use of cryptocurrency in Venezuela, which the U.S. believes is meant to scam international investors.
What’s next for Maduro to solve the crippling economy?
Maduro is faced with a daunting unfinished task: how to bring the country out of an economic crisis so troublesome that it has forced some Venezuelans to seek a better life outside their country. According to Venezuela’s International Office of Migration, immigration data showed the numbers of Venezuelans living abroad rose to around 1.6 million in 2017 from 700,000 in 2015.
The U.S. hasn’t imposed oil-related sanctions yet, by analysts warn doing so will only worsen the situation as Venezuela heavily relies on oil.
“This is crucial because (Venezuela’s) oil sector represents 25 percent of GDP (gross domestic product), 50 percent of fiscal revenues and 97 percent of revenue from foreign exchange… So, obviously, sanctions on the oil sector in Venezuela will be a game changer,” said Diego Moya-Ocampos, a principal political analyst for Latin America in Monday’s CNBC’s”Squawk Box Europe.”
Venezuela’s crude output has fallen sharply to 1.5 million barrels per day in recent months, a 40 percent plunge since 2015. At the end of February 2018, the country’s annual inflation stood at 6,417 percent. The consumer’s price index in February 2018 reached 80 percent, making it difficult for Venezuelans to buy their daily needs due to soaring prices.