Venezuela’s election day progressing calmly, despite minor incidents

Caracas, Nov 21 (EFE).- Venezuela’s local and regional elections were progressing calmly on Sunday, albeit with delays in organizational activities at some polling places and power blackouts at certain precincts, as well as with low voter turnout in a set of contests in which the opposition is participating for the first time in five years.

The polling places began opening at 6 am but five hours later 2 percent of the precincts were still not operating, according to a report by National Election Council (CNE) president Pedro Calzadilla.

He said that by midday a few “isolated incidents” had occurred, but they were “minor, as always happens.”

However, amid insistent questions from the media on that subject, the CNE chief refused to comment on specific cases and said only that the incidents were “quantitatively insignificant,” emphasizing that 98 percent of the precincts were operating at 11 am and avoiding discussing the apparent fact that 2 percent were not yet up and running.

In addition, he said that “fake complaints” about the balloting were circulating on the social networks.

Among those complaints were postings regarding the presence at some locales of election observers exclusively from the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), who at times reportedly were acting as precinct staff.

Spain’s international news agency EFE verified that several power blackouts had occurred and affected precincts in Caracas, including at Petare, the Venezuelan capital’s biggest “favela,” or shantytown.

In that district, located in the municipality of Sucre, one of the five making up Caracas, opposition figure and Miranda state gubernatorial candidate Carlos Ocariz cast his ballot.

“Without light, that’s how I voted. That’s the situation in … Valles del Tuy, Barlovento and Miranda state,” he wrote on Twitter.

Out on the streets, EFE also noted that there were very few voters on hand at the entrances of some precincts.

Among the opposition leaders, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who has been in the front rank in calling for opposition supporters to cast ballots in these elections, reiterated his opinion that “this election doesn’t belong” to President Nicolas Maduro, but rather “to the Venezuelans” living in Venezuela itself as well “as to those who are abroad and cannot” vote.”

According to the United Nations, about six million Venezuelans have emigrated from Venezuela to escape the dire political, economic and social crisis besetting the country, and some studies indicate that this may amount to 25 percent of eligible voters.

Regarding the election observer mission to monitor the elections, the first operation of its kind sent by the European Union to Venezuela in 15 years, Capriles emphasized that the officials have come to the country to do their work and not the work of the monitors invited by the Maduro government who, in his judgment, “are coming to do political tourism.”

He said that such activities are part of the way the PSUV operate, that is in not “accepting that there are rules, there are laws” that must be followed in elections.

He denied that going to the polls and casting a ballot implies “legitimizing Maduro,” saying that instead it’s “just the opposite” and means being able to express one’s opinion “against the government.”

In any case, he said that it was not to be expected that the citizenry would turn out at the levels that would be seen for a presidential election.

Among government officials, the president of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s parliament, Jorge Rodriguez, joined the calls issued for people to turn out and vote and, like Calzadilla, he downplayed the importance of the assorted reported election incidents.

Rodriguez, who also heads the government delegation in negotiations with the opposition, said that “this election is a direct consequence of the different dialogues” between the parties.

Also, like his sister and the country’s executive vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, he hailed the presence of Venezuelan opposition candidates in the election for the first time in five years, especially because “some of the ones who called for violence today are participating in the electoral event and are candidates.”

Meanwhile, Maduro said after casting his ballot that after Sunday’s vote there will be “more dialogue, political understanding, coexistence and harmony,” although he added that “the conditions do not exist” for the government to return to the negotiating table with the opposition.

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