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Venezuela votes in regional elections under international scrutiny

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Ruling party candidates Miranda Hector Rodriguez, right-wing, and Sucre mayoral candidate Jose Vicente Rangel hang on a street in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, November 19, 2021. Regional elections will be held on November 21st. (AP Photo / Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) Venezuela’s electoral system will be put to the test on Sunday as millions of voters across the South American country are expected to cast thousands of ballots in highly controlled regional elections.

The race will be monitored by more than 130 international observers, mostly from the European Union, fulfilling a long-standing demand of opponents of President Nicols Maduro. This will mark the first time in four years that the main opposition parties will run in the election, a decision that came amid already suspended negotiations between the ruling party and opponents.

More than 21 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote in over 3,000 races, including 23 governors and 335 mayoral posts. More than 70,000 candidates entered the race.

Maduro is not on the ballot. His term ends in 2025. But what is at stake is the legitimacy of the National Electoral Council, which has often been accused of imposing favorable conditions on Maduro’s allies after years marked by their decisions to disqualify parties and some by the most prominent opposition candidates.

International observers are deployed throughout Venezuela to monitor electoral conditions such as justice, access to the media, campaign activities and disqualification of candidates. They are expected to publish a preliminary report early next week and an in-depth look next year.

It is the first time in 15 years that EU observers are in Venezuela. In previous elections, foreign observation was essentially carried out by multilateral and regional election organizations close to the Venezuelan executive.

Historically, voter turnout has been low for state and municipal elections. The abstention ceiling has moved around 70%.

Regardless of turnout, Sunday’s election could mark the emergence of new opposition leaders, consolidate alliances and draw the lines to be followed by Maduro’s opponents, who arrive in this election shattered by internal rifts, often rooted in in their disappointment at not being able to knock out of power the heirs of the late president Hugo Chvez.

What we will see is a fight for second place, because second place symbolically means which opposition should be stopped the most, it will have a weight, said Flix Seijas, director of the statistical research firm Delphos. He added that the results will show who is in the end the second force of the country and which segment of the opposition represents it.

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