With charges of widespread voting irregularities and intimidating tactics by supporters of the late President Hugo Chávez guarding polling stations, Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles demanded a full recount of Sunday’s presidential vote after election authorities awarded victory to the government’s candidate, interim President Nicolás Maduro, by a narrow 1.59-percent margin.
“I don’t make pacts with lies or corruption. My pact is with God and with Venezuelans,” Capriles said early Monday morning, explaining that he won’t recognize the results until a full recount is conducted.
Five tense hours passed from the time voting stations closed until National Elections Council president Tibisay Lucena announced that Maduro had won the race by 234,935 votes, giving him 50.66 percent (7,505,338 votes) and Capriles 49.07 percent (7,270,403 votes). She said that the electoral tendency “was irreversible,” something that angered Capriles, who demanded that all the ballots must be recounted one by one.
At press time the CNE was expected to declare Maduro the official winner despite calls from Capriles and governments abroad, including Spain, for a recount.
Opposition leaders from Capriles’ Democratic Union Committee (MUD) reported some 3,200 cases of irregularities and other incidents — from gunshots to the reopening of polling stations after their closure — across the country.
I don’t pact with lies or corruption. My pact is with God and the Venezuelans”
The Caracas daily El Universal posted on its website a number of photos of ruling party supporters — many of them wearing red Chávez t-shirts and some apparently armed — riding motorcycles in groups near, and apparently standing guard outside, polling stations in different parts of the capital. Opposition supporters also posted photographs on Twitter and Facebook of Venezuelan National Guard troops at several polling stations allegedly carrying away cardboard boxes filled with print outs of electronic ballots that reportedly had not been counted, with demonstrators shouting at them.
“I am not leading a fight against a candidate but against the abuse of power,” said Capriles, 40.
For his part, Maduro celebrated victory, giving his supporters an “I told you so” by reminding them that the opposition was never going to accept his win. “We faced psychological warfare […] including electronic warfare. Today, we can say that we have a fair, legal and constitutional victory,” he said.
Maduro, who was handpicked by Chávez to become his successor last year before he underwent what was to be his final cancer surgery, said that Capriles called to ask him to hold off any declaration of victory until a recount could be held. But the interim president said no, arguing it would only bring “more harm” to the political situation as the people would have to wait for more than a week for the final tally.
“The bourgeois [candidate] thought that this was the end of the story of the 21st-century Bolivarian Revolution, but Chávez continues to win battles,” Maduro, 50, told his supporters.
They thought this was the end of the 21st-century Bolivarian Revolution"
Many regional leaders appeared cautious in recognizing a Maduro victory. Only Cuban President Raúl Castro and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sent their congratulations to the apparent winner on Monday morning.
In Spain, government officials called on Venezuelan electoral leaders to hold a quick recount, while in Washington a State Department spokesman only congratulated the Venezuelan people for carrying out a peaceful vote.
While no major incidences of violence were reported throughout election day, the greatest tension came during the five-hour period in which the CNE was tallying the results. Opposition sources reported that there were conflicts between CNE officials and government authorities during this time. They also said that Capriles held an emergency meeting at around 10pm with the military high command.
Venezuelans trickled to the polls early Sunday morning but as the day wore on voting stations became busier. By the late afternoon, Capriles was working the social networks asking his supporters to go out and vote before the booths closed.
The former governor of Miranda state had a better showing on Sunday than he did on October 7, when he lost by 10 percent to Chávez. This time around he garnered 680,000 more votes than six months ago. Hugo Chávez died on March 5.