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Opposition claims moral win

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Policemen stand guard in anticipation of trouble following the presidential elections in Caracas on Sunday. Xinhua

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’’ opposition claimed a moral victory after massive abstention marred President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election on Sunday, but with no clear strategy ahead for those who want change, the question loomed: where do we go from here?

Maduro, the 55-year-old successor to late leftist leader Hugo Chavez, hailed his win, with 68 percent of the vote, as a victory against “imperialism.”

But the opposition coalition had contended that conditions did not exist for a fair vote and had asked supporters to boycott the election. Official figures showed a turnout of 46 percent – and critics said it was far lower – compared to 80 percent in 2013.

The opposition claimed a moral victory, tweeting pictures of near-empty voting centers and celebrating the condemnation of the vote by Washington and its Latin American allies.

Voting irregularities – such as pressure on state workers to support Maduro and the promise of a ’prize’ for those who voted – vindicated the opposition’s decision not to participate, the president of the opposition-led Congress, Omar Barboza, said in an address to the nation on Monday.

He said his group would now press for fair presidential elections at the end of this year. But, with Venezuela’s electoral council stacked with Maduro loyalists, that appears to be a non-starter.

Asked by reporters what else the group was planning, he responded only that “further activities” would be announced and underlined his objective of “political change through constitutional means.”

For many ordinary Venezuelans, there is a growing sense that Maduro’s foes have run out of options.

Opposition supporters had been filled with optimism after the coalition swept to victory in 2015 congressional elections. That swiftly dissipated as the pro-government Supreme Court deprived Congress of any legislative power.

When the coalition organised a recall referendum against Maduro in 2016, authorities quashed it, citing alleged fraud in a signature drive.

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