Venezuela’s political opposition must rebuild and reflect on its strategy after suffering a heavy defeat in weekend elections, leader Juan Guaido has said, calling for unity among the fragmented movement’s leadership.
The opposition broke a nearly four-year election boycott to take part in mayoral and gubernatorial votes on Sunday, but paid for its failure to put up single candidates against President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV).
Opposition candidates won in only three out of 23 states, while Maduro’s allies won 18 governorships, according to updated election results published by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on Monday.
Maduro’s ruling party and its allies were well-positioned to claim the final two states, while a PSUV candidate also took the mayor’s office in the capital of Caracas. The President on Sunday welcomed the results of the vote as an “impressive” victory that “must be celebrated”.
It was the first time in nearly four years that the opposition contested regional polls, emboldened in part by the presence of European Union (EU) observers.
Election authorities said on Monday that 42.2 percent of the South American nation’s 21 million registered voters went to the polls on Sunday, although it has yet to publish final official results.
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Caracas, said low voter turnout did not help the opposition.
“They were expecting that controls on the ground would help them achieve their objective. However things did not go as planned,” Bo reported. “The biggest problem the opposition faced here is that around 60 percent of the population did not vote … but also the big divisions that exist within the opposition.”
Analysts said ahead of the vote that the opposition’s late decision to participate and in-fighting over whether it should run candidates would damage its showing.
Guaido, the former speaker of Congress who is recognised by the US and its allies as Venezuela’s rightful leader, said on Monday that the opposition needed to “rebuild itself” after the disappointing result.
“Today a new phase is opening,” he said, without providing specifics. “Today is a time for reflection amongst our leadership … It is not the time for fights nor egotism among political leaders.”
Guaido also said what happened on Sunday highlighted “the obvious need for unification” among opposition forces if they are to challenge the ruling party or Maduro in the 2024 presidential elections.
Earlier on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Maduro’s government of holding flawed elections that “skewed the process” to pre-determine the result in his party’s favour, citing harassment and bans of opposition candidates, voter roll manipulation, and censorship.
A preliminary report from the EU electoral observers is due on Tuesday, but there were no major reports of disruptions.
Meanwhile, Maduro said on Sunday that a return to negotiations in Mexico with the Venezuelan opposition would not take place until “the kidnap” of prominent government envoy Alex Saab – recently extradited to the US on money laundering charges – is answered for.
The talks, which began in August, are meant to seek a way out of Venezuela’s economic and social crisis.
Guaido said he was cautiously optimistic the government would return to the table and that he was discussing with international allies ways of increasing pressure on Maduro’s government.