By Mariela Nava and Keren Torres
MARACAIBO / BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (Reuters) – Campaigning closed on Thursday for Venezuela’s regional election with opposition parties – returning to the polls https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/with-catchy-jingles-cautious-optimism-venezuela-opposition-returns-ballot-2021-11-17 for the first time in four years – appealing to voters to punish the ruling Socialists for hyper-inflation and a deep recession.
Sunday’s election for state governors, mayors and city councils is a major test for the fragmented opposition, which boycotted the presidential polls in 2018 and congressional elections two years later accusing Maduro’s government of fraud.
The vote will be overseen by observers from the European Union at around 1,000 of the 14,400 voting centers, the first such European mission since 2006. The 100-strong team deployed across Venezuela on Thursday.
With turnout expected to be low among the 21 million registered voters, the divided opposition risks losing terrain to the Socialist party’s well-funded electoral machine.
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Should the opposition lose the 4 state governorships it won in 2017 – out of 23 states – it would lack a powerbase to launch a campaign for presidential elections, due in 2024.
Opposition leaders have tried to galvanize the electorate, campaigning on high poverty levels and a collapse in public services, particularly outside the capital Caracas.
“There is no water here. There is no electricity. There is no food. We have nothing but hope,” said Eva Prieto, a 52-year-old lawyer, alongside hundreds of opposition supporters at a campaign closing event for Manuel Rosales, candidate for the governorship of western Zulia state.
Rosales, a 68-year-old lawyer who served as governor of Zulia between 2000 and 2008, is seen by pollsters as one of the opposition candidates most likely to win a governorship. Polls predict the opposition could also win in the border state of Tachira, to the south.
Zulia, a center for Venezuela’s oil industry, has been badly hit by blackouts, and shortages of drinking water and gas, due to years of poor infrastructure investment.
“We are going to stop the destruction and Zulia will enter another stage in its history,” Rosales told Reuters in Maracaibo, the state capital.
The vote is a test of the impartiality of Venezuela’s electoral commission, which in May included two opponents among its top five directors, making it the most balanced board in 17 years, its members have said.
The opposition’s showing may be hurt by doubts over some candidates’ independence from Maduro’s government. Critics accuse some opposition figures of running to split the vote and help the ruling party.
In Lara state, Henri Falcón, a 60-year-old former governor, has been ostracized by many members of the opposition since he broke ranks in 2018 to contest the presidential election, providing an opponent for Maduro.
In the state capital, Barquisimeto, posters with Falcon’s face and the logo of the ruling Socialist party have sprung up. Urging voters not to go to the polls, the posters say: “Lara: don’t let the regime fool you.”
Falcon denies any links to the government and has vowed he will defeat the Socialist party candidate Adolfo Pereira on Sunday.
(Reporting by Mariela Nava in Maracaibo, Keren Torres in Barquisimeto and Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal; Additional reporting by Johnny Carvajal; Written by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
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