(Add statement from senior US official)
By Deisy Buitrago and Mayela Armas
BARINAS / CARACAS, Jan 10 (Reuters) – The victory of an opponent in the Barinas state elections, the heart of Venezuela’s ruling socialist party, gives hope to a fractured opposition that it can win electoral victories when it manages to mobilize voters and political parties go together, analysts said.
Sergio Garrido, an opposition leader, won the elections on Sunday with the government of Barinas by obtaining 172,497 votes (55.36%) and defeating former minister Jorge Arreaza, who with 128,583 votes or 41.2% came in second place .
The total of votes in Barinas increased with respect to the regional elections of November, when 278,666 votes were registered in the state. On Sunday in Barinas, a state with about a million inhabitants, 600,000 voters were registered to vote, and 311,595 participated, a rebound attributed mainly to the mobilization of opponents.
The ruling party, which controlled the entity for 22 years through the family of the late president Hugo Chávez, for the first time gives in to an opposition opponent, due to a wear and tear in the sector and the abstention of its electorate, according to analysts consulted.
The result of the new election, however, does not alter the rule of the ruling party over most of the governorates, but it is a symbolic victory for the opposition, which now has 4 of the 23 governorates, the same number as in 2017.
Brian Nichols, Undersecretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, congratulated the Venezuelans “who bet on democracy in yesterday’s elections in Barinas.”
“Disqualifications of opposition candidates, media censorship, voter intimidation and other authoritarian tactics could not subvert the will of Venezuelan voters,” Nichols wrote on his Twitter account.
From Barinas, Arreaza said, accompanied by some pro-government leaders, that he accepted the defeat with “dignity” and indicated to the party members that if they have to step aside to renew their leadership, they should do so “with humility … let’s not screw ourselves up. “in charges. The vice president of the ruling party, Diosdado Cabello, who led the campaign in Barinas, was absent.
With the triumph in Barinas, the opposition has the task of reorganizing itself, understanding that the vote does matter, in addition to giving relevance to regional leaderships and preparing the way for presidential elections, seen as a way out of the political crisis, added the analysts.
“When a people is upset and indignant, they find a means to channel that discomfort. The vote is claimed as a reason for struggle,” said Jhon Magdaleno, political scientist and director of the local Polity consultancy. “Barinas was an example of the recomposition (of the opposition). Garrido ended up being backed by more parties,” he added.
Amid the long economic recession and hyperinflation, many Venezuelans are disillusioned with politics. At least 5 million Venezuelans have emigrated due to the crisis.
The opposition strategy has been one of ups and downs. The political parties absent themselves from the 2018 presidential elections and the 2020 parliamentary elections, arguing that a fair vote was impossible due to the interference of the government of President Nicolás Maduro. But they returned to the polls in 2021 out of frustration over the failure of US sanctions seeking Maduro’s departure from power.
With the results of the November 2021 regionals, the opposition leadership called for the reconstruction of the coalition, and the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, insisted on Monday on strengthening unity.
“We have to do what we have done well in the past: organization, mobilization and clarity of message for the citizen,” Guaidó told reporters. “This situation should serve to face the challenges that come to us: reunify and strengthen the democratic alternative,” said the opponent who commented that the possibility of activating or not a recall against Maduro will be resolved in unity.
Garrido after his swearing-in as governor said that “today the Venezuelans realized that from Barinas, we Barineses achieved it, why won’t the rest of the people of Venezuela be able to?”
The loss of the government of Barinas reveals a wear and tear of government leadership and criticism of the efforts of regional leaders linked to the ruling party.
“There are areas that Chavismo had been losing and it is clear on that, so since 2015 it applied its strategy of staying in power as a minority and dividing the opposition,” said Félix Seijas, director of the consulting firm Delphos.
The election of Barinas was repeated after in November, when the regional elections were held, the ruling party surprisingly did not achieve victory. The Supreme Court of Justice, seen by the opposition as close to the government, ordered a repeat of the elections after it disqualified the opposition candidate, Freddy Superlano. (Report by Deisy Buitrago in Barinas, Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas in Caracas.)