A victory for Venezuela's opposition, but presidency still out of reach

The election council granted a partial recount of Sunday's presidential vote, but it's unlikely to reverse Maduro's inauguration, which took place today.

Gil Montano/AP
A woman holds up images of President-elect Nicolas Maduro and the late Hugo Chávez as supporters gather outside the Parliament building where Maduro's inaugural ceremony takes places, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday. The opposition boycotted the ceremony, hoping that the ruling party's last-minute decision to allow an audit of nearly half the vote could change the result in a the bitterly disputed presidential election.

As Nicolás Maduro stood before Venezuela's National Assembly to be sworn in as president today, thousands of opposition supporters celebrated, salsa music blaring throughout the capital, in hopes that Mr. Maduro could legally be unseated.

In a surprise concession, Venezuela's Electoral Council (CNE) said last night that it will scrutinize an additional 46 percent of the votes cast in Sunday's election, fueling opposition hopes that candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidency by less than 2 percent, still has a shot.

"We are where we want to be," Mr. Capriles said after the late Thursday night announcement. "I think I will have the universe of voters needed to get where I want to be."

"If they want to audit the remaining 46 percent, no problem, let's do it," said Jorge Rodríguez, Maduro's campaign manager. Mr. Rodríguez added that he would post the digitized results from 39,800 polling stations on the   United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) website in order "disprove the lies" of the opposition.

Capriles appealed for a full recount, claiming that some 3,200 voting “irregularities” occurred during the election. While overturning the initial electoral decision remains unlikely, analysts say Capriles and his political coalition are looking at a brighter future for their political parties. 

"Although [Maduro’s] supporters, the base of chavismo, are not saying it, they have to think about what happened here. How did we come in winning by 11 percentage points and a few months later we won by only one?" pollster Luis Vicente Leon, president of polling firm Datanalisis told the local press. "That's not a stellar victory."

Alternatives?

Tibisay Lucena, president of the CNE, said in a television address Thursday night that an additional 12,000 boxes of votes would be reviewed over the next month. Earlier the CNE and the Supreme Court refused the possibility of a recount, saying a majority (54 percent) of the votes were already audited in the initial tally.

The consensus is that the government is accepting the recount in hopes of easing tension and terminating the violence that ensued across the country this week, leaving eight dead and dozens more wounded. 

Although the Capriles camp has been quick to celebrate victory, many say the effort to overturn Sunday's results is likely to be fruitless. 

"What [the election recount] doesn't do is address the concerns over the pre-election conditions, the patently unfair playing field that existed during the campaign," says Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York City. "Now if the [recount] results are found to be valid, what alternatives are [the opposition] left with?"

While the United States has been reluctant to recognize Maduro as president, other regional organizations, such as Unasur and the OAS, have shown their support for Maduro.   

Long-term hopes

If the Maduro victory is confirmed by the recount, Capriles and his supporters are hoping their support will grow in the long term among an electorate that based on election results is evenly split.

Elsa Cardozo, political scientist at the Central University of Caracas, says, "the strategy of the opposition is for the long term." She points toward municipal elections later this year.

Ms. Cardozo adds that given the extreme polarization in the country and the myriad problems facing the new president, "there's an opportunity for the opposition to continue to repeat its message and alternative proposals. That's a reason for Capriles to continue."

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