CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolas Maduro faced fresh international censure yesterday after re-election in a vote foes denounced as a farce cementing autocracy in the crisis-stricken OPEC nation.
The 55-year-old successor to former president Hugo Chavez hailed his win as a victory against “imperialism,” but his main rival refused to recognise the result alleging irregularities.
Thousands of Maduro supporters, many wearing red berets, hugged and danced outside the Miraflores presidential palace as the results came in, under confetti in the yellow, blue and red colours of the Venezuelan national flag.
“The revolution is here to stay!” a jubilant Maduro told the crowd, promising to prioritise economic recovery after five years of recession in the nation of 30 million people.
“Let’s go, Nico!” his supporters chanted until after midnight during party scenes in downtown Caracas.
“We mustn’t cave to any empire, or go running to the International Monetary Fund as Argentina did. The opposition must leave us alone to govern,” said government supporter Ingrid Sequera, 51, wearing a T-shirt with a logo of Chavez’s eyes.
Declaring Sunday’s vote a “sham,” the United States is now threatening sanctions on Venezuela’s all-important oil sector, which is already reeling from falling output, a brain-drain and creaking infrastructure.
The European Union and major Latin Americans repeatedly warned in advance that conditions were unfair.
Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera was scathing about Sunday’s vote. “Venezuela’s elections do not meet minimum standards of true democracy,” he said. “Like most major democratic nations, Chile does not recognise these elections”.
Panama’s government followed suit, quickly saying it would not recognise the result. But fellow leftist-run nations Cuba and El Salvador sent congratulations.
Venezuela’s mainstream opposition boycotted the vote, given that two of its most popular leaders were barred, authorities banned the coalition and various of its parties from using their names, and the election board is run by Maduro loyalists.
The government used ample state resources during the campaign and pressure was put on state workers to vote.
The election board said Maduro took 5.8 million votes, versus 1.8 million for his chief challenger Henri Falcon, a former governor who broke with the boycott to stand.
Turnout at the election was 46 percent, it said, way down from the 80 percent at the last presidential vote in 2013.
Falcon called for a new vote, complaining about the government’s placing of nearly 13,000 pro-government stands called “red spots” close to polling stations nationwide.
Mainly poor Venezuelans were asked to scan state-issued “fatherland cards” at red tents after voting in hope of receiving a “prize” promised by Maduro.