CARACAS, Venezuela.- Voting centers across Venezuela’s capital city appeared largely empty during elections on Sunday despite assurances from government officials that millions had turned out to vote by mid-morning.
Poll workers at a voting center in San Agustin, a pro-government stronghold in Caracas, said less than a fifth of the 1,916 registered voters had cast a ballot, but they expected a mid-day surge. Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said about 2.5 million people had voted by 10 a.m.
While polls show Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame Maduro for their mounting troubles, he’s still heavily favored to win thanks to a boycott of the election by his main rivals amid huge distrust of the nation’s electoral council, which is controlled by government loyalists. More than 1 million Venezuelans have abandoned their country for a better life abroad in recent years, while those staying behind wait in line for hours to buy subsidized food and withdraw cash that’s almost impossible to find.
Maduro, setting an example for government supporters who he called on to vote early, cast his ballot in Caracas shortly after fireworks and loud speakers blasting a military hymn roused Venezuelans from sleep around 5 a.m. local time. Voting centers across Venezuela’s capital appeared largely empty during Sunday’s presidential election, and authorities kept polling stations open past the official closing time while government officials offered assurances that millions turned out to vote early.
Opposition leaders said the lifeless voting centers were evidence that Venezuelans heeded their call to abstain from voting in an election they contended was certain to be rigged in favor of socialist President Nicolas Maduro. It was unclear when results might be made available.
Both Maduro and two anti-government candidates who broke with the opposition’s push to boycott the election urged voters late in the day to go to the polls. “We’re not going to let a minority decide the destiny of this country,” said Javier Bertucci, a television evangelist who was considered a longshot in the race.
The main anti-Maduro candidate was considered to be Henri Falcon, a one-time socialist stalwart who broke with the president.