Venezuela opposition landslide might end socialist experiment

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Caracas (dpa) – The Venezuelan opposition won national elections by a landslide, the head of the election council said early Monday, with at least 99 of the 167 seats confirmed for the alliance of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD.

With voter turnout at 74.25 per cent, it was the first defeat of the socialist movement since its founder Hugo Chavez came to power in a 1998 election.

His handpicked successor, President Nicolas Maduro, conceded defeat in the elections which observers had considered as a referendum on the country’s socialist project: “We accept it.”

“Our path is peace, our path is democracy,” Maduro said, adding that overcoming the economic crisis was the country’s greatest challenge.

“Today, the counter-revolution has triumphed,” he said, adding that it was now time to start a new chapter in the Bolivarian revolution started by Chavez.

Maduro concluded his speech with a famous quote by Argentine guerilla leader Che Guevara “Hasta la victoria siempre” (“Until victory, always”).

Analysts say Maduro’s image has been hurt by economic problems as well as his lack of personal charisma, especially when compared to Chavez’s ability to charm Venezuelans with his folksy manner and fiery rhetoric.

Venezuela is plagued by high inflation at up to 200 per cent, while an economy of scarcity and a lack of food supplies are a major source of dissatisfaction as the people are suffering from increasing living costs.

As the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela has been suffering in particular from the steep drop in oil prices.

The MUD, or Mesa de Unidad Democratica in Spanish, is a coalition of centrist and left-leaning parties. It led most opinion polls over Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Observers see the MUD’s victory as another move away from the leftist politics of Chavism in South America after conservative Mauricio Macri won the presidential elections in Argentina in November.

The first meeting of the new parliament is scheduled for January 5, 2016.

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