Photo: The Canadian Press
A voter wears a mask against the spread of the novel coronavirus, featuring the Venezuelan flag design, as she waits outside a polling station after voting in a new election in Barinas, Venezuela on Sunday, January 9, 2022. Voters in the home state of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, vote again in a special election for governor, called after the opposition candidate in the November regular competition was retroactively disqualified because he was at the top of the vote count. (AP Photo / Matias Delacroix)
Voters in the home state of the late Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez on Sunday chose an opposition candidate for governor in a closely watched special election called after the candidate representing that faction in the regular contest for governor. November was retroactively disqualified for leading the vote count.
US-backed opposition candidate Sergio Garrido defeated former Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, whose campaign drew big hitters from the ruling party in a total effort to keep Chavismo stronghold under their control. The candidates campaigned for around five weeks after the country’s highest court disqualified opposition candidate Freddy Superlano and the special competition was scheduled.
âThis city of Barinas has accepted the challenge democratically, and today we have succeeded in being the emblematic state of all of Venezuela,â said Garrido. “… Today the people of Barinas have demonstrated this in unity and with the strength of all of you. They have achieved this, they have succeeded in overcoming obstacles, we have succeeded in overcoming adversity.
Election officials did not immediately release the vote count, but Arreaza admitted defeat on social media.
“The information we have received from our structures (from the ruling party) indicates that although we increased the number of votes, we did not achieve the target,” he tweeted. âI warmly thank our heroic activism. We will continue to protect the people of Barinas in all regions. “
Garrido, a local leader unknown to most of the country, has asked his supporters to be patient while election officials formalize the result.
Claudio Fermin, an opposition dissident, was also in the race. But for the first time in more than two decades, no member of ChÃ¡vez’s family was on the ballot in the northwestern state.
Superlano’s disqualification has raised new doubts about the fairness of Venezuela’s electoral system following the first vote in years in which most of the major political parties participated.
The importance of the election is not lost on voters.
“I am very excited to participate again so that we can finally move forward on this issue which started on November 21,” said voter Luisa Contreras, 70, before entering a polling center. .
Superlano was disqualified on November 29 when he was less than a percentage point ahead of starter Argenis ChÃ¡vez, one of Hugo ChÃ¡vez’s brothers. The High Court, which is one of many government bodies considered loyal to President Nicolas Maduro’s government, ignored a presidential pardon that had made Superlano and other members of the opposition eligible.
Barinas has long been a stronghold of Chavismo, with his brother Argenis ChÃ¡vez, his brother AdÃ¡n ChÃ¡vez and his father Hugo de los Reyes ChÃ¡vez, all governors since 1998.
But the attraction of the former president, who founded the ruling socialist movement in Venezuela, proved weak on November 21. poor health services and hunger due to food shortages.
Argenis ChÃ¡vez resigned his governorship following Superlano’s disqualification and did not participate in the special election. The ruling party then chose Arreaza as a candidate.
In addition to Superlano’s disqualification, his wife, who was chosen to succeed him, was disqualified. His replacement too.
Billboards and other advertisements for Arreaza could be seen statewide and, to a lesser extent, those in Fermin’s campaign. But Garrido’s advertising presence was virtually non-existent.
The number of votes for the ruling party has been declining since 2017 across the country. About 6.5 million people voted for pro-government candidates in the regional elections that year. On November 21, that number fell to around 3.7 million.
Before dawn on Sunday, government leaders and supporters of the ruling party gathered for a rally. âChÃ¡vez lives, and in Barinas, the homeland continues! they chanted.
“These elections have a different vibe, it looks like they are presidential elections,” said voter JosÃ© Lopez, 56, as he stood in line before dawn outside a polling center. “People are happy with the candidate (the government) sent here.”
The regional elections in November were monitored by more than 130 observers from the European Union, the UN and the US-based Carter Center.
A preliminary report by European Union observers concluded that Venezuela’s regional contests ran under better conditions than other polls in recent years, but that they were still marred by “structural failures”, including disqualification. opposition candidates.
The EU team did not comment on the situation in Barinas, but a Carter Center report criticized the court’s intervention.
âThere was also a general atmosphere of political repression, and more than 250 people are being held as political prisoners,â the center said. âThe recent court decision to suspend the counting of votes for the post of governor of Barinas is another example of its interference in the electoral process.