VENEZUELAN President Nicolas Maduro praised the “extraordinary electoral participation” in weekend local polls as socialists made sweeping gains.
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidates won all but one of the 40 municipalities that announced partial results on Sunday.
Speaking in the Bolivar Plaza in Caracas, Mr Maduro said the final count would show that his party had won more than 300 of the 335 seats being contested.
“We have obtained a big victory. A popular, democratic, free, sovereign victory of an independent country,” he told the crowds.
Omar Prieto of the PSUV won the governorship of the state of Zulia, which became vacant when Juan Pablo Guanipa was sacked over his refusal to be sworn in by the Constituent Assembly following October’s regional elections.
Opposition parties boycotted Sunday’s municipal voting, claiming that the electoral system was biased against them.
However, a team of international election observers, including the Morning Star’s Calvin Tucker, reported that opposition parties were able to speak to them freely and the impression was of “a vibrant, free democracy with high levels of citizen participation.”
Mr Tucker explained that fraud was virtually impossible, since votes are counted in the presence of witnesses from all political parties who then sign the tally sheets and endorse their accuracy.
“I spoke with many people this morning at the six polling centres I visited. Every witness from anti-government and pro-government political parties told me they had total confidence in the integrity of the voting system and the accuracy of the result,” he said.
National Electoral Council vice-president Sandra Oblitas announced that 9,139,564 people had turned out to vote, giving a participation rate of just over 47 per cent.
Mr Maduro said the results showed that opposition parties had “disappeared from the political map.
“I want to thank the people of Venezuela who have come to the voting centres to exercise their right to vote,” he added.
This round of elections was the third to be held in Venezuela this year. Eight million people took part in the election of the members of the new Constituent Assembly in October, despite a boycott by opposition parties and widespread violence and intimidation.
The 545-member assembly aims to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution and bring peace and stability to the country.
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