CARACAS: Voters queue at a polling station on Sunday during Venezuela’s legislative elections. The elections are expected to tighten President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power and weaken Juan Guaido, his US-backed rival, who is leading a boycott of the polls.—AFP
CARACAS: Voters queue at a polling station on Sunday during Venezuela’s legislative elections. The elections are expected to tighten President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power and weaken Juan Guaido, his US-backed rival, who is leading a boycott of the polls.—AFP

CARACAS: Venezuelans voted on Sunday to choose a new congress in an election the opposition is boycotting and most Western nations call a fraud by President Nicolas Maduro to retake the last state institution not in the hands of the ruling Socialist Party.

The vote is almost certain to return congress to Maduro’s allies despite his government struggling with an economy in ruins, aggressive US sanctions that stifle the Opec nation’s oil exports, and the migration of some five million citizens.

Members of the new congress will have few tools to improve the lives of Venezuelans whose monthly salaries rarely cover the cost of a day’s groceries, nor will their election improve Maduro’s reputation among Western nations for mismanagement and undermining of human rights.

It could, however, provide legitimacy for Maduro to offer investment deals to the few companies around the world willing to risk running afoul of Washington’s sanctions for access to the world’s largest oil reserves.

Many Venezuelans struggling with basic needs such as electricity, security and food express weariness with the country’s politicians, who they say have done nothing to stem the slide in living conditions.

Fewer people than in past elections were waiting to vote outside Caracas-area polling stations on Sunday morning. In the opposition stronghold of eastern Caracas, lines were shorter at voting centers than at service stations, where drivers can spend hours trying to buy fuel that is scarce because of sanctions and the collapse of the oil industry.

The election closes a cycle that began in 2015 when a euphoric opposition celebrated winning congress by a landslide, only to see their legislative powers swept aside by pro-government courts and the creation in 2017 of an all-powerful body known as the National Constituent Assembly.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2020

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