Venezuela Government Defends Election Result, Backtracks on Recount Pledge Reply

By Juan Forero and Emilia Diaz-Struck, Washington Post

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s government on Monday defended a presidential election that authorities said gave interim leader Nicolas Maduro a six-year term, backtracking on a pledge he had made to permit an audit of ballots demanded by the opposition after the razor-thin victory. Henrique Capriles, who had challenged Maduro in the Sunday election, which was held six weeks after President Hugo Chavez’s death, insisted that he had won the vote and called for a hand count of all the paper ballots.

Maduro, though, was proclaimed the winner Monday by the National Electoral Council, which certified the victory in a ceremony broadcast on national television, paving the way for his inauguration Friday. “There is no doubt here about who won the election,” Elias Jaua, the foreign minister and a former vice president, said in a speech in which he defended the election result and characterized the country’s electoral system as the best in the world. “Venezuelans, let’s feel proud of yesterday’s vote.”

Soon after Maduro’s victory was announced Sunday night, Vicente Diaz, one of the rectors of the electoral council, called for an audit of the vote. Minutes later, Maduro announced to a crowd of supporters outside the presidential palace, “We’re going to do it.” “We’re not afraid. Let the boxes talk — that the truth be told,” said Maduro, 50, referring to the cardboard boxes that hold ballots.

But by Monday morning, the potent state media apparatus played one interview after another of observers and politicians praising Venezuela’s automated voting system. And the electoral council — which is made up of five members, four of them allies of the government — made clear that it would not support a recount. “The Venezuelan electoral system worked perfectly,” said Tibisay Lucena, president of the council. “Venezuela is the country in the Americas with the most lively and vibrant democracy.”

On Monday, though, Capriles declined to concede and cited 3,200 instances of irregularities in the voting process, as well as the use of Venezuela’s well-worn electoral machine to get the vote out for Maduro. Capriles, 40, said his campaign had asked electoral authorities not to proclaim Maduro the winner pending a hand count of the ballots. He said the opposition’s estimates of the vote showed that he had secured a narrow victory over Maduro. “Here the fight is not against the people,” said Capriles, a governor and lawyer. “It’s a fight of the people against an illegitimate government.”

He called on Venezuelans nationwide to bang pots and pans in protest — and they did. Some students in Caracas also clashed with National Guard troops, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Francisco Lopez, 29, was among those who congregated in Altamira Plaza in the heart of opposition country. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, “but we’re going to defend the vote.” Observers, though, said the opposition’s push had little chance of being heard in a country where the president controls all institutions.

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