BOGOTA, Colombia -- Leaders of Venezuela’s embattled opposition was hoping Sunday’s elections would be a watershed – that even if they didn’t win the most mayoral seats they might prove that they were a majority.
Instead, the municipal vote seemed to prove something else: that President Nicolás Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, can mobilize the masses when they need them.
The National Electoral Council, CNE, did not provide updated national figures early Monday. But National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said the ruling party had won at least 234 out of 335 mayoral seats – or 69 percent of the total – with dozens of seats yet to be decided. Eurasia Group, a New York analysis firm, citing government figures, said the PSUV had won 257 seats versus the opposition’s 53.
The PSUV was also winning the popular vote with 49 percent versus the opposition’s 43 percent, the CNE reported Sunday. About 59 percent of the voting population cast a ballot in the race.
Although the opposition could boast holding major cities, including four out of Caracas’ five municipalities, and making inroads elsewhere, the results were sobering. Just weeks earlier, opposition leaders were saying they might win 100 seats and the popular vote as they turned the election into a plebiscite on Maduro’s first seven months in office.
But that strategy failed, said José Rafael Mendoza, a Caracas-based political analyst.
“These results, by the oppositions own standards, were a political and electoral defeat,” he said. “They’re facing an uphill battle now.”
The outcome might also lead to a shakeup in the opposition leadership, after losing four races, including two presidential votes, in less than two years, he said.
Leopoldo López, an opposition leader and the national coordinator for Voluntad Popular, said the administration had an unfair advantage, as it plowed government resources into the race and harnessed state-run media.
But he also blamed his colleagues for the loss. He said the opposition had not pressed its case that Maduro won April’s presidential election through fraud. The government says he won by 1.5 points.
“We called the people to come out and vote [Sunday] when on April 14 the majority expressed themselves and we couldn’t defend them,” López said. He insisted that most Venezuelans are against Maduro and said the country couldn’t stand six more years of his policies.
Lopez’s words seemed to be a veiled reference to Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles, who ran against Maduro and has been seen as the opposition standard bearer. He was also the opposition cheerleader for this race.
“I did everything that I was humanly able to,” Capriles wrote on Twitter. “Remember, Venezuela doesn’t have an owner. A divided country needs dialogue.”
Maduro has said he will meet with the winning mayors, of all stripes, in coming days. But he’s also looking ahead to the 2015 legislative race.
“This 2015 we have to win the National Assembly with a knockout,” he said. “We have to wipe out fascism and the right.”