Venezuela high court shoots down presidential election challenge

Venezuela’s high court Wednesday shot-down legal challenges to the April 14 presidential election that gave Nicolás Maduro a narrow victory, saying the opposition had not provided compelling evidence that the results were flawed.

Opposition leaders, including Maduro’s rival in the race, Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles, had taken their case to the Supreme Court even as they claimed they would not get a fair hearing from the body.

In its ruling, the court said the plaintiffs had “pointed out supposed irregularities in different election centers without identifying, precisely, how those events produced appreciable errors capable of changing the results.”

The news comes as the nation is gearing up for municipal elections in December to choose 2,792 officials including 335 mayors. As candidates from both factions have been registering this week, tensions are on the rise.

Early Wednesday, the opposition said authorities had detained Oscar López, a close Capriles’ ally and a state-government official.

Without specifically naming López, Maduro confirmed that security forces had detained “the chief of the dons of the right-wing mafia.”

He also denied that López was being “politically persecuted,” saying his detention comes after a lengthy investigation that uncovered serious financial crimes.

The coalition of opposition parties known as the MUD said the arrest was designed to distract the public from soaring inflation and rampant crime.

Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma called the arrest a government attempt to cow rivals.

“We are facing a regime that’s becoming more brutish and dangerous as it loses its legitimacy and popular support,” he said.

Venezuela has been in political turmoil since President Hugo Chávez’s died March 6 sparking snap elections. The National Electoral Council, or CNE, says Maduro — Chávez’s handpicked successor — won 51 percent of the vote versus Capriles’ 49 percent. The tight race triggered marches and protests that turned violent and claimed at least 11 lives.

Although the CNE finished auditing the vote in June — and stood by its results — the opposition has not been mollified. Critics, including Capriles, say the audit was an incomplete whitewash designed to obscure irregularities.

Wednesday’s long-delayed ruling wasn’t a surprise. Capriles and others have accused the justice system of being in Maduro’s pocket.

In Wednesday’s ruling, the court fined Capriles the equivalent of $1,700 for criticizing and disparaging the justices.

“They fine us for telling and defending the truth,” Capriles wrote on Twitter. “What’s inadmissible is the lack of justice in our country.”

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