Venezuela’s opposition won an historic victory in a tense rerun gubernatorial election in Barinas, a region ruled by the family of late President Hugo Chavez for more than two decades.
According to results announced late on Sunday, opposition lawmaker Sergio Garrido, 54, defeated the ruling party’s candidate Jorge Arreaza, 48, who served as the country’s vice president and foreign minister and was Chavez’s son-in-law.
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Garrido, who according to the National Electoral Council (CNE) won 55.36 percent of the vote, welcomed the result.
“With the unity and strength of each of you, we have succeeded … succeeded in overcoming obstacles and adversity despite all that we have had to face,” Garrido wrote on Twitter.
Arreaza conceded defeat before the results were announced tweeting “we did not achieve the goal” of winning.
The rerun gubernatorial election in Barinas state, where Chavez’s father and brothers have held political power since 1998, was conducted amid widespread claims of ruling party interference.
An initial election on November 21 was cancelled by a court after it appeared to be going the way of opposition figure Freddy Superlano, marking the first defeat in Barinas in 23 years for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), now headed by President Nicolás Maduro.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which is one of many government bodies seen as loyal to Maduro’s government, granted a request by the country’s public finances watchdog to declare Superlano “ineligible” because of “administrative and criminal investigations” into accusations of corruption and ordered new elections to be held without him.
Superlano was disqualified on November 29 while he was ahead by less than a percentage point over Argenis Chávez, one of Hugo Chávez’s brothers. Superlano’s wife, who was chosen as his successor, was disqualified, too.
Argenis Chávez resigned as governor following Superlano’s disqualification and did not enter the race in the special election, leaving the governor’s ballot free of a Chavez family member for the first time in more than two decades. The ruling party then chose Arreaza as its candidate.
In picking Arreaza, Maduro said the ruling party needed a new candidate “to go to the rescue”.
Before dawn on Sunday, government leaders and ruling-party supporters gathered in a rally chanting, “Chávez lives, and in Barinas, the homeland continues!”
Hugo Chavez remains popular in Barinas for redistributing the country’s vast oil wealth to the poor, but also blamed for the country’s now miserable economy and sky-high crime rate.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognised by the United States and dozens of other governments as Venezuela’s true president over Maduro, welcomed the result in Barinas on Sunday night.
“Beautiful Barinas, where it started, ends,” he tweeted, referring to the cradle of Chavismo. “United we will defend the will of a powerful majority that will not surrender, nor will it, until we see democracy again in Venezuela.”
Maduro’s 2018 re-election was rejected as illegitimate by part of the international community.
His party won big in the November 21 vote, which European Union observers said was marred by irregularities, including the widespread use of state resources and “arbitrary disqualifications” of challengers.
Maduro dismissed the claims and called the members of the EU electoral mission sent to observe the polls “spies”.