‘Red points’ street stalls offered prizes to poor and hungry voters in Venezuela election
Venezuela voters offered ‘prizes’ at street stalls near polling stations
Henri Falcon, the main rival to Venezuela’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro in Sunday’s controversial presidential election, said he would not endorse the widely condemned vote because of gross irregularities by the governments.
Falcon, a 56-year-old former army officer who failed to gain the endorsement of the main opposition,
pointed particularly to so-called “red points” – street stalls set up by the ruling Socialists near polling stations – allegedly to offer handouts in exchange for votes.
A third presidential candidate, evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci, also accused the ruling party of using the stalls to manipulate the vote.
“In the red points they were engaging in shameless vote manipulation,” said Bertucci.
As many as 13,000 pro-government stands were set up close to polling stations nationwide.
Maduro had promised “a really good prize” for those who would vote and who possess a Carnet de la Patria, or electronic identity card needed to access social food handouts or receive government coupons.
But the head of the electoral commission, Tibisay Lucena, earlier denied there would be any prizes for voting, and ruled that the “red points” must be at least 200 meters from polling stations.
Hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, rising crime and broken water, power and transport networks have sparked violent unrest, and left Maduro with a 75 per cent disapproval rating.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the South American country in a mass exodus in recent years.
Despite his unpopularity over a national economic meltdown, the 55-year-old Maduro benefited on Sunday not just from the opposition boycott but also from a ban on his two most popular rivals and the liberal use of state resources in his campaign.
“I am looking for rewards, everyone wants to win prizes,” said voter Maximino Ramos at “red point” in Petare, just 50 meters from a polling centre.
Under the faded red canopy in the strongly pro-Maduro favela of Petare, Magalis Torres encouraged her neighbours to scan the code on the cards.
“I am a Chavista one hundred per cent, whether there is food or not I am a Chavista,” said the 51-year-old woman who got up early to organise voting in her neighbourhood and set up the “red point”.
Luis Rojas, a 66-year-old pensioner who receives government coupons, said he agreed with Maduro, who said the crisis is due to “an economic war” being staged by a group of countries.
Manuel Rodríguez, a 67-year-old lawyer, came out to vote and then went immediately to a “red point”.
He believed that the opposition boycotted the elections because all its leaders want to be president.
“In the opposition, personal desires weighed more than a real desire to get Maduro out and that’s what the people see.”
Bertucci, who handed out soup at his campaign rallies, stopped short of challenging the results, partly blaming what he called a mistaken opposition boycott that led to a turnout of around 46 per cent – the lowest in a presidential race in two decades of revolution.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press