President Nicolas Maduro was unsurprisingly declared winner of Venezuela’s election Sunday in a poll rejected as invalid by his rivals, who immediately called for fresh elections to be held later this year.
Reeling under a devastating economic crisis, only 46 percent of voters turned out to cast ballots in an election boycotted by the opposition and condemned by much of the international community, but one that hands Maduro a second term until 2025.
“We do not recognize this electoral process as valid, as true,” his main rival Henri Falcon told a news conference, even before the result was announced.
“For us, there were no elections. We have to have new elections in Venezuela.”
Maduro hailed his victory for another six-year term as a “historic record” in a speech to thousands of cheering supporters outside the official Miraflores Palace in Caracas.
“Never before has a presidential candidate taken 68 percent of the popular vote,” he said, to applause.
“We won again! We triumphed again! We are the force of history turned into a permanent popular victory,” said Maduro.
The official result gave Maduro 67.7 percent of the vote, with Falcon a distant second at 21.2 percent. In the last opinion polls before the vote, the pair were running neck-and-neck.
Third-placed Javier Bertucci, an evangelist preacher who polled around 11 percent, joined in the call for new elections.
Maduro, the political heir to the late leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez, has presided over an implosion of the once wealthy oil producer’s economy since taking office in 2013.
Hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, rising crime and broken water, power and transportation networks have sparked violent unrest, and left Maduro with a 75 percent disapproval rating.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the South American country in a mass exodus in recent years.
Wearing a bright red shirt that identifies him as a “Chavista,” the president arrived early at a Caracas polling station along with his wife, former prosecutor Cilia Flores.