Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has dismissed as “spies” members of a European Union electoral observation mission sent to observe last week’s regional polls.
The condemnation from Maduro came on Sunday after the observers said the polls, in which opposition candidates participated for the first time in four years, were generally better conducted than previous years.
However, they raised concerns over arbitrary bans on candidates for administrative reasons, delays in opening voting centres and “extended use of state resources in the campaign”.
Maduro, whose governing Socialist Party largely swept the gubernatorial and mayoral elections, said the EU observers sought to “stain the electoral process and they couldn’t”.
“A delegation of spies – they weren’t observers – wandered freely around the country, spying on the country’s social, economic and political life,” Maduro said during a broadcast on state television, adding that the elections were “impeccable, beautiful”.
The observer mission did not immediately respond to the claims.
The EU observers deployed to the country for the first time in 15 years as part of several concessions from Maduro’s government to encourage the participation of opposition candidates, who have boycotted all elections in the country since 2018 amid allegations of fraud and intimidation.
The concessions came amid a wider push by Maduro, who was first elected president in 2013, to curry favour with Western powers in hopes of relief from sanctions, which have crippled the country’s already flailing economy.
The US is among dozens of countries that have not recognised Maduro’s presidency since the controversial 2018 national elections, which opposition leader Juan Guaido claimed to have won.
The 1,000-member EU team will present a full report on the elections in two months.
Opposition candidates saw little success in the most recent elections, picking up just three of 23 governorships and 117 mayoral positions to the governing party’s 210 mayoral victories.
Several mayoral races had yet to be called, and one governor’s office – in the heavily Maduro-leaning Barinas state – has also not been called.
Despite the victories, votes for the Socialists dwindled to fewer than four million, according to figures from the country’s electoral authority, down from the 5.9 million it won during regional elections in 2017.
On Sunday, Maduro also said he will hold meetings in “the coming hours” with opposition governors, but did not offer details.