Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents gained a stronger foothold in Venezuela’s largest cities in mayoral elections, though they failed to deliver the crushing victory they had sought in hopes of breaking a prolonged political stalemate.
Members of the ruling socialist party won in 196 of 335 municipalities up for grabs, according to preliminary results announced by the National Electoral Council.
The opposition took 53 and independent candidate won eight races, while the remaining 78 contests were too close to call.
The opposition, which won 46 municipalities in the 2008 elections, retained control of the country’s two biggest cities, Caracas and Maracaibo, and took at least four state capitals currently in the hands of government supporters.
Its biggest trophy was Barinas, the hometown of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and political base of his brother, Barinas state Governor Adan Chavez.
However, opposition forces did not capitalize on discontent with Venezuela’s soaring inflation and worsening shortages of basic goods that they hoped would put them on top in the much-watched national total vote.
They said such a finish would punish Maduro in his first electoral test since he narrowly defeated Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles for the presidency in April.
In a triumphant speech late on Sunday, Maduro dedicated his victory to Chavez and promised more measures to protect the poor in the coming days, including a drive to keep food prices low.
“The Bolivarian Revolution continues now with more strength,” Maduro told hundreds of supporters at a rally in downtown Caracas to celebrate what he called a “grand victory.”
Voting took place in relative calm, with only minor disruptions and isolated acts of violence.
Turnout of 58 percent was heavy for local elections, but trailed the 80 percent that cast ballots in April’s presidential election, reflecting fatigue that has set in across Venezuela’s political spectrum the past few months.