Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Venezuela's local elections go ahead despite boycott call

AP , CARACAS, VENEZUELA

Thousands of Venezuelan candidates were competing yesterday in local elections that could forecast the popularity of President Hugo Chavez's political allies ahead of key congressional elections in December.

In other recent votes, opposition leaders have called boycotts, saying the country's electoral council is stacked in Chavez's favor. But this time, the major opposition parties are urging voters to go to the polls to demonstrate unity.

"It doesn't matter if we have a crooked electoral council," said opposition lawmaker Henry Ramos Allup, who is up for re-election in December. "We have to go out and vote."

While some tiny opposition parties have urged voters to boycott yesterday's vote, all of the major parties are calling for participation.

Electoral officials insist their council is independent and that thorough preparations have been made for fair and transparent elections.

The voting will decide thousands of city council and parish board posts across the country, plus two provincial mayors and one governor, in the sparsely populated southern state of Amazonas.

More than 38,700 candidates are contesting the elections, some with national party affiliations and others without.

Many Venezuelans, including Chavez, are predicting a low turnout. Only 23 percent cast ballots in the last municipal elections in 2000.

"We know that abstention will be high. That is a characteristic of local elections," Chavez said recently.

He pledged to "fight" to encourage Venezuelans to reverse the trend.

But Chavez supporter Jose Liendo, a 37-year-old carpenter, said he is tired of voting year after year for a number of allied candidates "who don't help Chavez or us."

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