By Nestor Rojas
HAVANA TIMES — On Sunday, Venezuelans will cast their votes to renew the 167 seats at the country’s National Assembly (Congress), in the legislative elections where government forces face the greatest challenge of the past decade, DPA reported.
More than 19 million voters are registered to vote in the country’s 87 electoral districts. A total of 113 representatives will be selected individually, while 51 will be voted for as part of a bloc. Three indigenous representatives are candidates.
The Chavista government (taking its name from the late Hugo Chavez) has maintained a majority at Congress since 2005, when the opposition boycotted the elections and withdrew, claiming it did not trust the National Electoral Council (CNE).
In 2010, the opposition returned to Congress but was annulled by the pro-government majority headed by Diosdado Cabello.
The government’s electoral campaign has been tarnished by acts of violence against the opposition, including an incident last week in the locality of Altagracia, state of Guarico, where the leader of opposition party Accion Democratica was gunned down.
Most polls announce that the opposition has a 20 to 25 point advantage in terms of vote, in the midst of mass discontent over product shortages and an inflation rate that, according to independent studies, was higher than 150 percent this year.
During the campaign, President Nicolas Maduro acknowledged that these will be the toughest elections the government has faced in 16 years and, during the two-week campaign, he made several appearances to support his candidates at official functions.
Maduro warned that he would not hand over the Bolivarian revolution in the event of an electoral defeat and alerted that a National Assembly controlled by the opposition would mean the end of social programs for Venezuela’s underprivileged.
“If the right takes over the National Assembly, we won’t be taking anything back. I won’t hand myself over under any circumstance, but, if any negative circumstance arose, I would take to the streets with the people, as I’ve always done, and the revolution would enter a new stage. Don’t expect to see a coward, expect to see the courageous son of Chavez, on the streets, next to the people,” he stated.
During his visit to Barinas, the place of birth of Hugo Chavez, the president mocked the polls and the optimism shown by the opposition.
“They continue to make fools of themselves. They say they’ve already won, that the polls say so. I’ve won, the polls say so, that’ what they say. You have to win down here, you bourgeois parasites, the people are down here, on the street,” he declared.
The opposition’s Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD) said it hopes December 6 will mark the beginning of a new political era.
According to the MUD executive secretary, Jesus Torrealba, the coalition’s legislative program will begin by passing an amnesty law for political prisoners, which include leader Leopoldo Lopez and students detained and tried for protests against the government last year.
The opposition also plans to implement laws to increase salaries, in response to the damage caused by inflation and the devaluation of the currency, as well as additional measures to incentivize production nationwide.
The CNE did not authorize international oversight by the OAS and EU for the elections and only approved an “accompanying” electoral mission headed by former Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.