Venezuela’s roiling politics may get more turbulent as voters head to polls Sunday - | cape town south africa vacation

October 14, 2017 9:25 pm
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If circumstances were normal in Venezuela, opposition candidates could expect to sweep to victory in Sunday’s gubernatorial elections, given overwhelming voter dissatisfaction over a collapsed economy and new revelations linking unpopular President Nicolas Maduro to the Odebrecht bribery scandal.

But opposition leaders and international critics including the U.S. State Department claim Maduro has manipulated voting procedures in a bid to salvage state houses he is in danger of losing.

Now suffering through a fourth straight year of recession, rising poverty, food scarcities and inflation exceeding 1,100%, only 1 in 5 Venezuelans approve of Maduro’s performance and 3 in 5 want him out of the presidential palace, according to polls.

“I’m voting Sunday for the simple reason I am horrified that the chavistas could win governorships and finish destroying what little is left standing,” said Caracas store owner Beatriz Montiano, referring to Maduro’s socialist followers. “I love my country, and I don’t want it to continue in ruins.”

The president has responded to mounting opposition with increasingly autocratic measures. After opposition candidates won control of the National Congress in 2015, the Maduro-controlled supreme court cut its powers in a series of controversial decisions. The armed forces violently suppressed street demonstrations earlier this year, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

On Thursday, Venezuela’s former attorney general, Luisa Ortega Diaz, a Maduro critic, published a video on social media that purports to show an executive with disgraced Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht claiming he gave a Maduro representative a $35-million bribe to secure future contracts.

Maduro further upset a majority of Venezuelans by calling a constitutional assembly in July that effectively replaced the opposition-controlled National Assembly elected in December 2015. All members of the new assembly are hand-picked Maduro allies.

Sunday’s election would seem the perfect forum for Venezuelans to show their displeasure with the socialist government. Political science professor Luis Salamanca of Central University of Venezuela said state-by-state opinion surveys show opposition candidates should win a majority, even as many as 18 of the 23 state houses up for grabs. Currently, Maduro opponents hold governorships in only three states.

“No democratic government would be able to sustain what Maduro is making the Venezuelan population suffer,” Monaldi said. “But this is a government with a strong grip on the military, and that’s what makes it possible.”

Office manager Maria de Rodriguez said she will vote Sunday so as not to leave the government of Miranda state where she lives in the hands of “the reds.”

“I prefer anyone to a functionary of Maduro’s government. They have radicalized us, and that is a shame because we aren’t voting for an alternative but for anyone who can stop this government from controlling everything.”

Special correspondents Mogollon reported from Caracas and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.


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