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Maduro Wins Venezuela Election Amid Widespread Disillusionment

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Nicolás Maduro won a second term as president of Venezuela, a country in the midst of a historic economic collapse marked by soaring prices, widespread hunger, rampant crime, a failing health system and a large-scale exodus of its citizens.

Electoral officials declared Mr. Maduro the victor Sunday night, in a contest that critics said was heavily rigged in his favor.

In the capital and around the country, the turnout was extremely low, with more than half of voters not casting ballots, reflecting both a call from many opposition leaders for a boycott of the vote and the disillusionment of longtime government supporters.

Voting centers in pro-government strongholds and opposition areas alike often had no lines — a significant change from previous presidential elections, and a sign that many Venezuelans repudiated the candidacies of both Mr. Maduro and the two opposition candidates.

Election officials said Mr. Maduro, the political heir of Hugo Chávez, the leftist firebrand who led this oil-rich country until his death in 2013, received 5.8 million votes, with more than 92 percent of voting centers reporting. That was nearly 68 percent of the votes cast.

His main rival, Henri Falcón, a former state governor who was once an acolyte of Mr. Chávez’s but broke with him to join the opposition, received 1.8 million votes. A third candidate, Javier Bertucci, a political novice and an evangelical minister, received 925,000. Mr. Maduro’s current term continues until the end of the year; his new term will last six years.

“So much they have underestimated the revolutionary people! So much they have underestimated me,” Mr. Maduro said, addressing a cheering outdoor crowd in Caracas. “And here we are again, victorious!”

He scarcely mentioned the low turnout and said that the 68 percent of the vote he received was the highest percentage for a winner in a Venezuelan presidential election, calling it a knockout.

Despite his triumph, there is little relief in sight for Mr. Maduro or Venezuela.

The United States — which condemned the election as unfair and anti-democratic even before it happened — has threatened stricter sanctions. Also likely to increase pressure on Mr. Maduro’s government even before his next term begins: He has largely been cut off from international financing, and the government-run oil industry, which provides virtually all of the country’s hard currency, is in free-fall, with plummeting production.

Some may also point to the low turnout and vote totals and question Mr. Maduro’s leadership. He received about 1.5 million fewer votes than when he was first elected in 2013. Mr. Maduro has shown no signs so far that he has the ability to solve the country’s deep problems, and his response to the crisis has often been to crack down harder on adversaries — including the traditional opposition as well as rivals on his side of the political divide.

The official turnout figure was given as 46 percent, compared to about 80 percent in the last two presidential elections.

Mr. Falcón accused Mr. Maduro’s party of pressuring voters and said that he would not recognize the election results.

“We don’t recognize this electoral process as valid,” Mr. Falcón said, speaking at his campaign center before the official results were made public. “For us, there was no election. There must be a new election in Venezuela.”

Mr. Falcón had defied a broad call to boycott the election over expectations of just the sort of unfairness that he denounced after the polls closed.

The United States and many countries in the region have said they would not recognize the results. Colombia and Brazil have received huge influxes of economic refugees from Venezuela.

Mr. Maduro’s victory was certain to set off a new round of infighting and finger pointing within the opposition. Some accused Mr. Falcón of giving legitimacy to the president’s re-election. Others asked if the opposition might have missed a chance to displace Mr. Maduro, given his falling popularity among his own supporters, many of whom failed to turn out.

Venezuela, which is estimated to have the world’s largest oil reserves, is in the throes of one of the worst economic crises in recent history in the Western Hemisphere. The International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation this year could reach 13,000 percent, by far the highest rate in the world.

With soaring prices and shortages of basic goods of all kinds, many Venezuelans are malnourished. It is common to find families who eat just twice a day, and with little protein, fresh fruit or vegetables in those meals. Two pounds of chicken or beef costs as much as the monthly minimum wage package, which, including food coupons, is worth about $ 2.50.

That is hardly a recipe for a president to win re-election, but Mr. Maduro sought to give himself every advantage in Sunday’s vote.

The electoral authorities banned the largest opposition political parties from taking part in the election, and key politicians were barred from running. Brutal repression of anti-government protests, and the arrests of many activists and leaders also weakened the opposition.

Electoral authorities also moved up the election to May, although it is traditionally held in December, allowing little time for the opposition to organize and campaign. They even eliminated the requirement that voters dip a finger in indelible ink, which is used to keep people from voting more than once.

In response, many opposition leaders called for an election boycott.

Mr. Falcón ultimately decided to break with the rest of the opposition and run against Mr. Maduro.

Mr. Maduro attributes the country’s problems to what he calls an economic war waged against Venezuela by the United States. But most economists place the blame on poor government management, corruption and broken policies, like tight controls over foreign exchange, an overvalued currency and price controls on goods.

The government has responded to the crisis by providing people with boxes of food, including powdered milk and pasta, although most people say they arrive irregularly and do not contain nearly enough to sustain a household. The food boxes became both an incentive and a threat during the campaign, with many voters fearful that they could be cut off if they didn’t support the government.

At many polling places on Sunday, people cast their vote and then visited a so-called Red Spot — named for the ruling Socialist Party’s color — set up nearby.

At the Red Spot, voters presented the special identity card used to receive the food boxes and other services and gave their names to workers who were keeping lists of those who had voted. Workers at the Red Spots said that there was no effort to pressure voters or link a pro-Maduro vote to future food deliveries.

Mr. Falcón accused the government of violating campaign rules through the use of these Red Spots.

A woman waiting outside a polling station in a Caracas slum, La Vega, said she worked for a government agency and feared losing her job if she did not vote and report afterward at the Red Spot. The woman, who would not give her name out of fear of reprisals, also said that she felt compelled to vote for Mr. Maduro, even though she did not support him, because she was sure that government computers tracked people’s votes — a common notion here.

One of the most striking aspects of the day was the large number of voters who appeared to have stayed away.

“I’m surprised by the low turnout,” said Loreima Henríquez, a National Electoral Council employee, who was overseeing a polling place in Dos Caminos, a middle-class area of Caracas. There were about 4,200 voters registered to cast ballots there, but by 1 p.m. only 313 had done so.

“We were aware of the calls to abstain from voting, but many fewer people than we expected are coming out,” Ms. Henríquez said.

Rosa Rodríguez, 50, a former Chávez and Maduro supporter, said that this time she voted for Mr. Falcón and volunteered to work as a poll watcher.

“People are not voting on both sides and I think this is a silent message that they’re giving the country today,” said Ms. Rodriguez, who lives in a working-class area in the center of Caracas. “They have to realize that the people are protesting in silence. For me that says it all.”

In a slum abutting the main airport outside Caracas, Marielis Idimas, a mother of two, said she had voted for Mr. Maduro despite the economic hardships — but she showed more resignation than enthusiasm.

“My life is not good,” she said, sitting at a small stand where she sold eggs for 60,000 bolívars each (the currency’s devaluation makes that only about 6 cents although it is a vast sum for poor Venezuelans). “But who lives comfortably now?”

Another slum resident, María García, 63, said that she had not voted because doing so would have been supporting a sham.

“I’m not going to be part of this,” Ms. García said. “I hate everything about this government and I don’t want anything to do with them.”

Patricia Torres and Ana Vanessa Herrero contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: Maduro Is Re-elected in Venezuela Amid Widespread Disillusionment. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Source: NYT > World

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