President Nicolás Maduro’s party and his allies have won in Venezuela’s legislative elections that were boycotted by the main opposition parties.
The win gives Maduro control of the last major branch of government outside his grasp- he now has total control of the country’s political institutions. It plays out in the waning days of the Trump administration, which leaves office with Maduro firmly entrenched despite its efforts to bring about his departure through diplomacy and sanctions.
“We have recovered the National Assembly with the majority vote of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said in a televised address. “It’s a great victory without a doubt for democracy.”
Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela and allied parties captured 67% of seats in the National Assembly in Sunday’s election, said Indira Alfonzo, president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council. Just 31% of the 20 million registered voters participated in the election, she said.
The National Assembly has been led by US-backed politician Juan Guaidó, who has pressed to oust Maduro for nearly two years and end Venezuela’s deepening crisis. He’s backed by Washington and dozens of nations that consider Maduro’s presidency illegitimate.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described Sunday’s poll as “a fraud and a sham”.
“The results announced by the illegitimate Maduro regime will not reflect the will of the Venezuelan people,” he posted on Twitter.
The Organization of American States (OAS) has also said it will not recognise the result.
The election’s outcome, however, appears to weaken both Maduro, who’s accused as overseeing a fixed vote, and Guaidó, whose legal claim to the presidency hinges on his role as National Assembly head, while his own popularity fades after failing to oust Maduro.
The opposition boycott stems from a Supreme Court ruling this year appointing a new election commission, including three members who have been sanctioned by the US and Canada, without participation of the opposition-led Congress, as the law requires.
The court also removed the leadership of three opposition parties — including Guaidó’s — appointing new leaders the opposition accuses of conspiring to support Maduro.
A small number of opposition parties not associated with Guaidó have held dialogue with the government and participated in the election. Critics say this allowed Maduro to maintain the semblance of a valid contest.
Maduro campaigned for his party’s candidates — including his son and wife — promising to finally silence the right-wing opposition, which he accuses of inciting violent street protests and inviting US sanctions.
The election comes amid uncertainty over the impending change of US administration. Like outgoing President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden has called Maduro a “dictator,” though it’s unclear what approach he’ll take toward Venezuela’s crisis.