Voters woke to state-sponsored fireworks and music in working-class parts of Caracas. Wealthier neighbourhoods, which tend to favour the opposition, were spared the cacophony.
Venezuelans of all inclinations began lining up before polling stations opened, anxious to cast their ballots early in case violence should break out later in the day.
Until recently, the opposition was seen as coasting to its first major electoral victory since Hugo Chavez became president in 1998, with Venezuelans tired of rampant crime, routine shortages of basic goods and inflation pushing well into triple digits.
The economic crisis has worsened with this year’s slump in oil revenue, which funds almost all public spending.
But support for President Nicolas Maduro’s rule, a good proxy in deeply polarised Venezuela, recently jumped 11 points, to 32% in late November, according to a survey by respected local pollster Datanalisis. Analysts attributed the bounce to an aggressive government campaign of funnelling resources to key districts and warning voters that Chavez’s legacy of social programmes would be lost if the opposition took control of the National Assembly.
A small opposition majority in the new 167-seat National Assembly could create only minor inconveniences for Mr Maduro, such as denying him a budget for foreign travel and having committees scrutinise the executive’s record.