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Venezuelans Cast Ballots Sunday in Regional Elections Viewed as Test for Maduro, Opposition

  • VOA News

Opposition candidate Carlos Ocariz, who is running for governor of Miranda state, speaks with a woman as he campaigns in Guarenas, on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 7, 2017.

Venezuelans cast ballots Sunday in regional elections that are widely seen as a vital test for both President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition.

Voters will elect governors in all 23 states and the opposition Democratic Union Roundtable coalition is calling for a large turnout that some experts say could propel them to victory in most regions.

Many polling experts say the opposition coalition could win 20 of the state elections, a feat that would mark the first time since 2000 the Maduro's socialist party would be forced to rule a country with so many opposition governors.

Even if opposition politicians win 20 states, there are no guarantees they would be able to effectively wield power. Manduro has emphasized that incoming governors would have to take an oath of office and "subordinate themselves" to the constituent assembly that seized legislative power from the opposition-dominated assembly.

The opposition was unable to sustain anti-Maduro protests in which 125 people were killed between April and July after Maduro opposed the protests and formed the constituent assembly.

Many opponents of the government doubt the country's elections authorities can ensure accurate vote counts. After the controversial election to install the pro-Maduro assembly, which rewrote the constitution, Smartmatic, the company responsible for voting machines, said the ballot tally had been manipulated by at least 1 million votes.

The situation has the opposition scrambling to encourage voters to go to the polls. At a final campaign event Wednesday in the coastal state of Vargas, opposition candidate Juan Manuel Olivares told the crowed, "Victory will be in your hands. This Sunday, nobody can stay at home without voting."

The regional elections were supposed to have taken place last December. The pro-Maduro National Electoral Council delayed them, however, after polls projected heavy losses for Maduro's socialist party.

Just three days before the elections, Venezuela's chief prosecutor leaked a video supposedly showing an executive with the Odebrecht Organization, a Brazilian conglomerate, saying he agreed to pay $35 million toward Maduro's campaign in exchange for favors involving the conglomerate's construction projects.

Former Venezuela chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said on her website the video shows Odebrecht President Euzenando Prazeres de Azevedo speaking with Brazilian prosecutors.

A man identified as Azevedo says a Maduro aide asked for $50 million for the socialist leader's 2013 campaign. Azevedo agreed to pay $35 million if Odebrecht's projects would receive "priority."

Diaz fled Venezuela in August after being ousted from her position as chief prosecutor by the new and powerful constituent assembly.

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