CARACAS -- As Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner of Sunday’s tight and contested presidential vote, thousands of opposition marchers paralyzed parts of the capital Monday chanting “fraud!” and demanding a recount.
In a ceremony in central Caracas, the National Electoral Council, or CNE, declared Maduro the winner of the race. But his rival, Henrique Capriles, maintained the vote was flawed and that to assume the presidency without a full recount made him illegitimate.
“This crisis can be resolved counting vote by vote,” Capriles said.
He’s called on supporters to march on regional CNE offices on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Capriles said he would lead protesters to the national office to present a list of 3,200 voting irregularities and campaign violations that he said skewed the election.
Authorities said Maduro won 51 percent of the vote to Capriles’ 49 percent, and beat his rival in 16 out of 24 states, including the capital. But with 99.1 percent of the vote counted, Maduro’s advantage was less than 240,000 votes.
While both sides agreed to a full audit Sunday night, CNE President Tibisay Lucena suggested Monday that would not be forthcoming. She said 54 percent of the vote had been automatically audited, which would be considered “excessive” in any other country. Once he was declared the victor, Maduro also said there was no need for a complete recount.
As the ceremony was taking place, several thousand people gathered in Plaza Francia, a longtime opposition stronghold, chanting “the government is going to fall,” and burning Maduro campaign posters.
“They committed fraud,” said Nerquis Alfonso, 45, a pharmacist, as she banged on a pot with a spoon. “And the CNE is full of [government supporters]. There’s no one who can guarantee us that our vote was respected.”
The banging of pots in protest, known here as a cacerolazo, went on for more than an hour in parts of the city.
In central Caracas, Maduro supporters said the opposition was acting in bad faith and trying to generate violence.
Guillermo Gimon, 62, said that other presidents had won by smaller margins before, and that Capriles had secured his governors’ seat in December by just three points over his pro-Chávez rival.
“It’s like they’re trying to spark violence or a coup,” he said. “They have to listen to the will of the people.”
As he spoke to crowds after the ceremony, Maduro called on the opposition to admit it had lost and warned against trying to take power through force.
“If you want to try to oust us through a coup, the people and the armed forces will be waiting for you,” he said. “But what we want is peace.”
On Monday, the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations, one of the international groups invited to follow the election, said the vote was peaceful and transparent
Voting booths closed in “complete” normalcy and voting data was transferred to the CNE headquarters without any “problems,” said organization President Roberto Rosario.
Now the political leadership “has to accept these results with responsibility,” he said.
The Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, also said Sunday’s election was free and fair.