Both sides in Venezuela’s political stand-off were to hold rival demonstrations yesterday after authorities rejected opposition demands for a presidential election recount and protesters clashed with police in Caracas.
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles says his team’s figures show he won the election on Sunday and he wants a full audit of official results that narrowly gave victory to the ruling party’s candidate, Acting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The Venezuelan National Electoral Council has refused to hold a recount of the votes, and police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Monday to disperse opposition supporters who protested in a wealthy district of Caracas.
The election was triggered by the death of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez last month after a two-year battle with cancer.
He named Maduro as his successor before he died and his protege narrowly won the election with 50.8 percent of the vote to Capriles’ 49 percent.
Both sides called for their supporters to hold peaceful demonstrations nationwide yesterday, raising fears of more political unrest in the OPEC nation of 29 million people.
“I call for the people to fight peacefully, to mobilize in all the country ... enough abuses,” Maduro told reporters on Monday, hours after formally being declared the winner. “They’re trying to violate the majority ... we call on them [the opposition] to respect the people’s will.”
As well as the clashes in Caracas, which included demonstrations outside the offices of state television channel VTV and the home of the head of the election authority, opposition protests were reported in several provincial cities.
Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, hopes to highlight the weakness of Maduro’s mandate and stir up opposition anger over his charge that the electoral council is biased in favor of the ruling Socialist Party.
However, the strategy could backfire if demonstrations turn into prolonged disturbances, such as those the opposition led between 2002 and 2004 that in some instances involved blocking roads for days with trash and burning tires.
A return to prolonged trouble in the streets could renew questions about the opposition’s democratic credentials on the heels of their best showing in a presidential election, and just as Capriles has consolidated himself as its leader.
Mexico’s leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called for protests after losing a 2006 election by a razor-thin margin, alienating even some of the voters who had backed him.
However, Capriles says that he will fight on.
“We are not going to ignore the will of the people. We believe we won ... we want this problem resolved peacefully,” Capriles told a news conference. “There is no majority here, there are two halves.”