The Latest: Mood dour among Venezuelan ruling party backers
The Associated Press
Dec. 07, 2015
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Here's the latest on Sunday's important congressional elections in Venezuela (all times local):
The mood is dour in a nearly deserted downtown Caracas plaza as a stage is taken down where a few dozen government supporters had gathered to await results in Sunday's legislative elections.
None of supporters of the ruling socialist party are conceding defeat or talking much to journalists.
President Nicolas Maduro is expected to discuss the results when they are announced at a press conference at an adjacent auditorium. But the word now is that he'll leave the task to others in his socialist party.
Leaders of Venezuela's opposition are saying they won a majority of seats in legislative elections ahead of the announcement of official results.
"Venezuela won," former presidential Henrique Capriles celebrated on Twitter. A source within the anti-government camp told The Associated Press that the coalition believed it had won around 100 seats in the 167-seat legislature.
The National Electoral Council has yet to announce results and the opposition claim could not be confirmed. The ruling socialist party has not commented on the results.
Some members of the opposition are angry after elections officials ordered polling centers to stay open for an extra hour, even if no one was standing in line to vote.
Government opponents mobbed some voting stations demanding that the National Guard stick to the original schedule of closing at 6 p.m.
They chanted, "Soldiers, protect your country!" as young men with heavy weapons looked on.
A grandmother physically blocked one polling center entrance in downtown Caracas.
The law says a polling station has to stay open if people are waiting to vote, but no one was standing in line outside that balloting center. Soldiers closed that center before the one hour extension was up at 7 p.m.
Voting is coming to an end but electoral authorities are ordering polls to remain open as long as voters remain in line waiting to cast ballots.
National Electoral Council Vice President Sandra Oblitas says there are reports of lines at several voting centers.
Venezuelan electoral law guarantees latecomers the right to vote as long they are in line at 6 p.m. when polls are supposed to close.
Electoral authorities are withdrawing former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga's credentials as an electoral observer after controversial comments about voting hours.
Quiroga is one of six former presidents invited by Venezuela's opposition to monitor the vote. National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena said his credentials would be withdrawn after allegedly calling on authorities to make sure polls close at 6 p.m. as mandated by electoral law.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello went one step further and is calling for the expulsion of all six former leaders.
President Nicolas Maduro had repeatedly vowed in recent weeks to take to the streets if his party lost. Opposition leaders said that if their coalition didn't win it would be because the government cheated.
But the president changed his tone on Sunday.
He said: "In Venezuela, peace and democracy must reign. I've said we'll take the fight to the streets, but maybe I was wrong."
(Clarifies Maduro's comments and corrects that they were made Sunday.)
Past Venezuelan elections have been marred by complaints of armed gangs intimidating opposition voters.
There have been few reports of that type of harassment as voting in congressional elections draws to a close. But videos are circulating of high-profile socialist party politicians being booed and heckled as they went to cast their votes.
In the home state of the late president Hugo Chavez, his brother Gov. Adan Chavez drew jeers from a large crowd chanting: "out of here!"
At least four other governors and the pro-government mayor of Caracas also had to pass through gauntlets of angry opposition members to cast their ballots.
Venezuela's ambassador to the United Nations is criticizing what he says are efforts by the Obama administration and several American presidential candidates to discredit his country's election even before polling stations opened.
Rafael Ramirez was Venezuela's longtime oil czar and former foreign minister before he was named representative to the UN late last year.
He accompanied President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday as the leader cast his ballot at a school in a working class neighborhood.
President Nicolas Maduro has cast his vote in congressional elections after stepping out of a black SUV, surrounding by several dozen supporters.
Salsa musicians pounded large drums and shouted "como sea," a reference to Maduro's campaign pledge that the socialists would prevail "by any means."
A co-founder of the Black Lives Matter campaign is in Caracas for Election Day at the invitation of the socialist government.
Opal Tometi was swarmed by government critics on Twitter after posting about the relief she felt being "in a place where there is intelligent political discourse."
Some warned her that she was being used, while others drew derisive comparisons to other high-profile Americans who have supported the socialist administration, including Sean Penn and Oliver Stone.
Black Lives Matter grew out of the outrage that followed several high-profile police killings of African-Americans in the United States last year.
In a statement released by Venezuela's Washington-based public relations consultant, Tometi said that Venezuela appears to "have a truly thriving and rigorous democratic system."
Flights into Venezuela have been packed with expatriates returning home to vote.
Working professionals, ambitious students and members of the upper classes have been leaving the country in droves in recent years.
Venezuela doesn't allow absentee voting for congressional elections, so generally opposition-leaning expats must fly back if they want to participate.
Analysts estimate that more than 1 million people have left the country of 30 million since Chavez came to power in 1998.
Government supporters are getting ready to welcome President Nicolas Maduro to the voting place at a school in the working class neighborhood of Catia neighborhood.
One government supporter is handing out campaign literature to the long line of voters. That's a clear violation of the electoral law. But the large contingent of national guardsmen and members of the presidential guard awaiting the arrival of Maduro don't seem to mind.
Red-shirted government backers turned out in full force and a salsa band is deployed to liven up the masses. There's no visible presence of the opposition Democratic Unity coalition.
Venezuelans may be the ones casting ballots, but the country's neighbors also are eagerly awaiting results.
The late Hugo Chavez kicked off a swing to the populist left in Latin America when he was elected 17 years ago. He used the country's vast oil wealth to amass allies across the region, challenging American dominance.
But the region's economic prospects have faded with an economic slowdown in China. Venezuela itself has been slammed by low oil prices. Some pundits see the start of a conservative revival.
In Argentina, the party of Chavez ally Cristina Fernandez lost the presidency to conservative businessman Mauricio Macri last month. In Brazil, leftist President Dilma Rousseff is fighting impeachment amid a serious economic slowdown.
Long lines continued outside banks Sunday as people worried about possible post-election unrest tried to get as much cash as possible. That's not easy in a country where many a banks limit daily ATM withdrawals to the equivalent of $10 a day.
Venezuela's Congressional election is taking place against the backdrop of shortages, recession and the world's highest inflation. It's become impossible to find basics like toilet paper and milk in supermarkets.
Lines dozens of people long began forming on Friday at nearly every ATM in the capital of Caracas.
Government-sponsored fireworks and music have awakened people in working-class parts of Caracas for a vote that poses the gravest electoral threat for the socialist system built the Hugo Chavez.
The early morning blast of noise is a traditional get-out-the vote effort in the South American country. But people in Caracas' wealthier areas expressed surprise that they were spared the cacophony this year. Their neighborhoods tend to favor the opposition.
Voters began lining up even before polling stations opened at 6 a.m., many anxious to cast ballots early in case violence should break out later.