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Venezuela’s Socialists at threat in tense legislative vote

CARACAS Venezuelans voted for a new legislature on Sunday in an election that may punish the ruling Socialists for a brutal financial crisis and give the opposition a extended-sought platform to challenge President Nicolas Maduro.

Chronic solution shortages and the world’s highest inflation could hand “Chavismo” a very first loss in the National Assembly since the movement’s charismatic late founder, Hugo Chavez, took office in 1999, polls show.

Winning a majority of the 167 seats would not give the opposition energy to overhaul the dysfunctional state-led economy. But it would shatter the Socialist Party’s aura of invincibility and could embolden foes to seek a recall of Maduro in 2016.

It would also deal one more blow to Latin America’s left following Argentina swung to the proper in last month’s presidential election.

“Our time has arrived,” stated Diana Rodriguez, 37, a teacher and mother-of-two voting in affluent east Caracas dressed in white in solidarity with imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and other activists in jail.

“At other instances, we went to vote with doubts and pessimism, if I’m truthful. This time, absolutely everyone is totally clear. This country is no longer ‘Chavista’. Chavez died and no-a single can stand the man who’s replaced him and sunk our beautiful country.”

A former bus driver and foreign minister, Maduro, 53, ran a feisty campaign, appearing at rallies with pro-government candidates to a backdrop of Afro-Caribbean drumming as red-shirted supporters wave flags.

Invoking Chavez’s name at each turn, Maduro urged his supporters out on Sunday with tweets showing images of his former boss and mentor. “Chavez’s men and women, let’s vote for a best victory,” he exhorted.

In a few regions, government supporters woke voters up with horns and fireworks just before sunlight. More than 163,000 soldiers have been guarding voting centers around the nation, with lengthy queues of hundreds and much more noticed from dawn.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino mentioned a handful of “isolated irregularities” had occurred, such as some folks chewing up voting papers, 3 people wearing false military uniforms, one particular individual caught carrying a gun near a voting center and some citizens illegally employing drones.

Newest polls showed Maduro’s popularity had bounced towards the end of the campaign, top some analysts to predict the opposition’s victory would be narrower than 1st believed.

Well-known WELFARE Programs

One particular of the government’s central messages – that the opposition plans to dismantle well-known Chavez-era welfare programs such as subsidized food – has hit home with some.

“I will vote as I usually have accomplished simply because I have a lot to thank this government for,” stated Isabel Guerra, a voter in the central mining city of Puerto Ordaz.

Political analysts point out that the Socialist Celebration rewards from a geographic distribution of seats that favors historically pro-government rural places over cities.

That could imply the all round vote will not be precisely reflected in the quantity of seats won by every side.

The sensible influence of a prospective opposition victory would rely on how large a majority it wins.

Taking two thirds of the seats would let Maduro’s adversaries to sack cabinet ministers as effectively as name directors of the National Electoral Council, which critics accuse of routinely favoring the ruling celebration.

With a simple majority, lawmakers could pass an amnesty law to seek the release of jailed politicians such as Lopez, who was arrested for leading 2014 anti-government protests.

They could also open investigations of state agencies, interrogate cabinet ministers and pressure for the publication of economic indicators such as inflation that have been kept beneath wraps as the economy has unraveled.

Last year’s collapse in oil markets has left the OPEC member struggling to pay its bills, although rigid currency and price handle systems have spurred item shortages.

Supermarket lines that snake across several blocks are a widespread sight. Black marketplace re-sellers offer every thing from dollars to eggs for these who can afford them.

The election will have no immediate effect on Maduro’s term in workplace, which expires at the start of 2019.

But the opposition can seek a recall referendum next year by collecting about four million signatures.

Polls close at 6:00 p.m. local time (five:30 p.m. EST) with final results anticipated around 10:00 p.m. local time.

Election board head Tibisay Lucena, whom the opposition accuse of pro-government bias, is to announce final results reside to the nation. She said late morning that voting was going “swimmingly.”

(Additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea in Caracas, German Dam in Puerto Ordaz Editing by Mary Milliken and Richard Balmforth)

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