The vote, contested by around 14,000 candidates, accompanies the country in a deep political and economic crisis.
The polls opened on Sunday in parliamentary elections are expected to tighten Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power and weaken his US-backed rival Juan Guaido, who is leading a boycott of the polls he calls fraud.
The victory will give Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party control of an enlarged 227-seat National Assembly – the only institution not in its hands.
The election, contested by around 14,000 candidates from more than 100 parties, accompanies the country in a deep political and economic crisis – stifled by rampant inflation, crippled by endless queues for gasoline, lacking in fuel supplies. water and gas and plagued by sudden power cuts. .
Since November 2019, inflation has reached 4000%.
“The time has come to vote for peace, for the country, for the future,” Maduro said in a message to supporters on the Telegram messaging app, shortly before voting began at 6.30am local time (10.30am GMT ).
Guaido, 37, called for a boycott on the grounds that “free and fair” conditions for holding elections do not exist.
“Maduro’s goal is not even to gain legitimacy,” he told AFP news agency in an interview last week, adding that the goal was rather simply to erase all semblance. of democracy.
Guaido and his allies are planning a week-long plebiscite starting Monday to seek public support to extend the term of the current National Assembly until “free, verifiable and transparent” elections can take place.
“This is a very important election in Venezuela,” said Andreina Tarazon, a Venezuelan politician from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and president of the Center for Higher Studies of Development and Emerging Economies.
“So far the [assembly] which has been run by the opposition has posed serious problems for the country, especially in the management of its economy and international relations.
Under opposition control since 2016, the lawmaker has prevented Maduro from securing more foreign investment for the country’s oil industry,
End of a cycle
Many Venezuelans struggling with basic needs such as electricity, security and food, express their weariness with the country’s politicians, who they say have done nothing to stem the decline in living conditions.
The election closes a cycle that began in 2015 when a euphoric opposition celebrated Congress’ victory with a landslide, only to see its legislative powers swept away by pro-government courts and the creation in 2017 of an all-inclusive body. -powerful known as the National Constituent Assembly.
Guaido has been recognized by more than 50 countries, including the United States, as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela after most Western countries disowned Maduro’s 2018 re-election as fraudulent.
These countries are expected to continue to recognize Guaido, although the opposition is discussing proposals that could limit the size of his interim government and reduce the number of ambassadors.
Despite the campaign of sanctions and diplomatic pressure from US President Donald Trump, Maduro remained in power, backed by the military and backed by Russia, Cuba, China and Iran.