Venezuela faces political volatility as opposition rejects Maduro's win

Opposition supporters bang pots, set fires over Capriles' 'fraudulent' loss in presidential race

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2013, 3:33am


Venezuelans faced the prospect of extended political instability after Nicolas Maduro was proclaimed president-elect and opposition supporters started to march in the streets for a second day to demand a full recount of Sunday's election.

The government dispatched anti-riot forces in Caracas on Monday as Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez's anointed heir who received 50.8 per cent of the vote, was declared the winner. On Monday, tear gas was used to disperse protesters who did not accept the government's refusal to recount the vote as demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

As the second day of protests began yesterday, one protester was reportedly killed.

"The margin was not as wide as we had expected, and now they think the moment has arrived for a coup," Maduro said. "They are trying to inflame hate and have succeeded with some in the middle class."

The closest margin of victory in 45 years may lead to an environment of distrust and institutional collapse, said Javier Ciurlizza, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group.

Capriles, who had 49 per cent support, said he had evidence of irregularities. It included videos of voters being watched by Maduro supporters while they cast their ballots, affecting about 300,000 votes - enough to ensure Maduro victory.

"I'm not asking for them to proclaim Capriles as the winner," the 40-year-old opposition leader said in Caracas. "I'm asking that they count each vote. If as a candidate you agreed to a vote-by-vote recount you don't go running to be proclaimed."

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said no recount of the 15 million votes cast would occur and that Maduro would be sworn in on Friday. The government would call for Capriles to be investigated by the National Assembly for the violence generated in the country, Cabello said yesterday on his Twitter account.

"The government's rejection of a reasonable request to recount the vote has polarised the country even further, driving people into the streets," Ciurlizza said. "If opposition supporters lose faith in formal politics, the outbreaks of violence will become unpredictable."

Hundreds of Capriles supporters marched through eastern Caracas on Monday to gather outside his campaign headquarters as other protesters spread out across the city, many banging pots and pans. Elsewhere on a motorway in the capital, national guard troops fired tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse protesting students.

"We're not afraid of violence, and that's why we're here in the middle of the street protesting this fraud," said Danny Guzman, 32, an accountant supporting Capriles. "We refuse to live in fear under this regime, which is trying to put pressure on us all."

Maduro will have to confront accelerating inflation, shortages of consumer goods and slowing growth.

The former union leader and foreign minister has vowed to follow in the steps of his mentor Chavez.

"I am the son of Chavez," Maduro said. "I am the first Chavista president after Hugo Chavez and I am going to fulfill in full his legacy to protect the humble, the poor, the fatherland."