Maduro favored as Venezuelans vote amid crisis

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is likely to win a second six-year term within Sunday’s election, despite a deepening crisis that’s made food hard to find and inflation soar as essential oil production in the once wealthy country plummets.

More than 1 million Venezuelans possess abandoned their country for a much better life abroad in recent years, while all those staying behind wait in line all day to buy subsidized food and withdraw money that’s almost impossible to find.

While polls display Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame Maduro for mounting troubles, he’s still seriously favored to win thanks to a boycott of the election by his main rivals amid huge distrust of the nation’s electoral council, which is controlled by government loyalists.

Maduro ended his campaign Thursday dancing on stage before a cheering crowd in Caracas while blaming Venezuela’s increasingly dire outlook on a U. S. -orchestrated “economic war. ”

“I extend my hands to all Venezuelans so that we can progress together with love and take back our homeland, ” said Maduro, the hand-picked successor to late President Hugo Chavez, who launched Venezuela’s leftist revolution. “I have seen the continuing future of Venezuela and a historic victory awaits us. ”

On Friday, the Trump administration added Diosdado Cabello, a key Maduro ally, to an evergrowing list of top officials targeted by financial sanctions, accusing the socialist party boss of drug trafficking and embezzlement.

Maduro’s main rival, independent candidate Henri Falcon, has faced the dual challenge of running against a powerful incumbent while attempting to convince skeptical Venezuelans to defy the boycott called by the primary opposition coalition.

Blasting Maduro as the “candidate of hunger, ” he has campaigned on a promise to dollarize wages pulverized by five-digit inflation, accept humanitarian aid and seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund — all proposals Maduro has rejected as tantamount to surrendering to the U. S. “empire. ”

“I swear that I will liberate Venezuela from this dictatorship, ” Falcon shouted to supporters at his final campaign rally Thursday in his home city of Barquisimeto. “I swear it in the name of God. ”

Also on the ballot is television evangelist Javier Bertucci, who has cut into Falcon’s support by providing free soup at rallies.

Around 80 % of Venezuelans believe Maduro did a bad job, yet turnout is expected to be the lowest since Chavez was elected in 1998, with only 34 percent saying they’re certain they will vote, according to recent polling by Datanalisis.

The election has drawn broad criticism since a few of Maduro’s most-popular rivals were banned from running, and several more were forced into exile. Echoing the views of Venezuela’s tattered opposition movement, the United States, European Union and many Latin American countries have already said they don’t recognize the results.

In addition , pressure tactics honed in past campaigns have kicked into overdrive, further tilting the playing field in Maduro’s favor.

Nearly 75 percent of households said they received government-issued food boxes in the past three months, according to Datanalisis, and Maduro on the stump has promised that the 16. 5 million holders of the fledgling “fatherland card” will be rewarded for his or her vote. Just to be sure, so-called “red points” will be set up outside voting centers checking peoples’ cards, which are needed to access social programs.

“This is neither a competitive or democratic election, and the result may not reflect the preference and decision of the voters, ” said Luis Vicente Leon, president of Datanalisis.

Still, some question the wisdom of not competing in an election, even though it is widely seen as rigged.

A 2010 study by the Brookings Institution covering 171 electoral boycotts all over the world — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — found that such maneuvers rarely succeed in rendering elections illegitimate in the eyes of the world. Alternatively, the boycotting party usually emerges weaker and the incumbent empowered.

Javier Corrales, a Venezuela expert at Amherst College, said the opposition’s sit-out strategy could be as disastrous as its boycott of congressional elections in 2005, which light emitting diode the ruling party to sweep all seats and pass legislation removing presidential term limits that further strengthened Chavez.

“The irony is that this is the least democratic election of all but it’s also the best chance the opposition has ever had, ” said Corrales. “If Maduro wins by a large margin, he’ll go on it is as a green light to keep radicalizing and moving in the direction of completely destroying the private sector. ”

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