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Venezuela votes in regional elections under international scrutiny

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Caracas Venezuela’s electoral system was being put to the test on Sunday, with millions of people voting in thousands of races, the first in four years with strong opposition turnout following a series of boycotts of unfair conditions.

The race was being watched by more than 130 international observers, mostly from the European Union, fulfilling a long-standing demand of opponents of President Nicols Maduro.

The main opposition parties agreed to participate after the government promised confidence-building measures during negotiations already suspended 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.

“I vote for Venezuela, I do not vote for any political party,” said Luis Palacios, 72, outside a polling station in the Caracas capital. I do not care about politicians, they do not represent this country. I think Venezuela can improve by participating because, well, we no longer have any other options.

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But not everyone shared Palacios’ interest in the election. Turnout appears to be relatively easy at some polling stations in Caracas.

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 setting favorable conditions for Maduro’s allies. In recent years, the council has disqualified parties and some of the most prominent opposition candidates.

International observers have been deployed throughout Venezuela to monitor 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.

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“It is very good that they have sent observers so that there is no problem or someone says there was fraud,” said Pedro Martinez, a 56-year-old public hospital employee, standing outside a polling station in eastern Caracas. This gives me a little more confidence so that they respect our right to vote and respect our vote because we want that to change.

Martinez said he votes every election and this time his country’s economy and health care services are on his mind. He said healthcare workers earn virtually nothing and hospitals desperately need supplies and equipment.

Millions of Venezuelans live in poverty, facing low wages, high food prices and the world’s worst inflation rate. The country’s political, social and economic crises, linked to falling oil production and prices, have continued to deepen with the pandemic.

Historically, voter turnout has been low for state and municipal elections, with about 70% abstentions.

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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 (the government believes) should be stopped more, this 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.

In a low-income neighborhood that has been a stronghold of government support, about a dozen people looked through lists of ID numbers pasted on a wall to see if they were in the right polling station. There, Carmen Zambrano remarked on the few people waiting to vote.

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I do not see much harmony, she said, attributing it to general dissatisfaction. Previously, Zambrano said, many more people would go to the polls.

Her frustrations include purchasing all supplies, from medications to syringes, so her little nephew could be treated for an infection at a hospital two weeks ago. And, she said, neighborhood leaders recently began selling free food assistance earlier.

Maduro and First Lady Cilia Flores in televised messages after casting their votes urged Venezuelans to go out to vote.

I know that from the people’s vote will come decisions that lead us, that lead us to the direction, the fate of the country, said Maduro.

He added that the elections will strengthen the political dialogue, will strengthen the democratic governance, will strengthen the capacity to face the problems, to find solutions. ” But in the same remarks to journalists, he said that the dialogue with the opposition can not resume at the moment.

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Negotiations were suspended last month following the extradition to the US of a key ally of Maduro.

“It was the United States government that hit the back of the dialogue between the Bolivian government of Venezuela and the extremist Guaidosista opposition in Venezuela,” he said, referring to opposition leader Juan Guaid.

Mara Meneses stopped at the polling station in Caracas where she has been voting for the last 40 years. But the 84-year-old was told that this time she was assigned to another center.

Please, I have to vote. I want to vote, Meneses told poll workers outside an elementary school in a neighborhood that has historically voted for the opposition.

Leaning on a folding food cart, she said she would go find her new polling station.

Many in my neighborhood have left (the country), she said. I want to die under this sky.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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