An opposition candidate won the mayorship of Venezuela’s -second-largest city of Maracaibo on Sunday, claiming the big prize in regional elections seen as a test of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s popularity, according to initial results.
Venezuelans also elected governors in two rural states that have traditionally favored pro-Chavez candidates and mayors in 10 municipalities besides Maracaibo. Candidates from Chavez’s ruling party captured seven of the 11 mayorships and one state, according to official results released by local election authorities.
However, it was the Maracaibo race that was the most-closely watched.
Eveling Trejo, the wife of former Maracaibo mayor Manuel Rosales, defeated pro-Chavez candidate Gian Carlos Di Martino and several other lesser-known contenders on Sunday, elections officials said.
Trejo, a newcomer to politics, won with 58.6 percent of the counted votes.
Her husband, Rosales, fled Venezuela last year after prosecutors brought corruption-related charges against him. Rosales, who denies any wrongdoing and claims the charges are politically motivated, was granted asylum in Peru. During the campaign, election officials barred Trejo from using posters bearing the image of her husband’s face.
“I’m sure that from Lima, where he is, he should be happy and proud,” Trejo said, referring to her husband.
In the rural state of Guarico, pro-Chavez candidate Luis Gallardo bested Carlos Proposeri, a lawyer backed by a coalition of opposition parties, with 77.1 percent of the votes, election officials said.
The results late on Sunday were released after officials said voting trends showed an irreversible outcome. Final results were expected to be released yesterday.
In the states of Amazonas, Liborio Guarulla, a former Chavez ally whose party broke ranks with the president earlier this year, got 51.1 percent of the votes to beat pro-Chavez candidate Edgildo Palau and six other contenders.
The elections were viewed as a barometer of Chavez’s popularity at a time when he is facing numerous domestic woes, including a recession coupled with double-digit inflation and rampant violent crime that has made Venezuela into one of Latin America’s most dangerous countries. An emboldened opposition is seeking to capitalize on these problems.
The Venezuelan National Electoral Council decided to proceed with the elections despite torrential rains and floods that have killed at least 34 people and forced more than 5,000 Venezuelans from their homes. More than 90,000 people have taken refuge at hundreds of government shelters, according to authorities.
Chavez has urged Venezuelans to exercise their right to vote, “to sovereignly express their will at the polls, to continue strengthening the model of participatory democracy.”
Sumate, a local non-governmental organization that monitors elections, expressed concern the rains would keep voters home.
“This situation will undoubtedly have negative effects regarding the participation of voters,” Sumate said in a statement issued on Saturday.
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