Venezuela votes for a new political landscape as jailed opponents freed

Ecstatic opposition leaders vowed to use their new majority in Venezuela’s legislature to free jailed opponents of the Socialist government, but also said they would not move to dismantle popular welfare policies.

Venezuela votes for a new political landscape as jailed opponents freed

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition won more than twice the number of National Assembly seats as the Socialists in elections that punished President Nicolas Maduro’s government for the country’s deep economic crisis.

It was the first time in 16 years the “Chavismo” movement, named for former President Hugo Chavez, lost its majority in the 167-member assembly, and gives the opposition a platform to further erode Maduro’s power in the oil-rich nation.

The 53-year-old president, who was handpicked by Chavez but lacks his charisma and guile, accepted defeat in a speech to the nation that calmed fears of violence.

Aware that victory owed more to public discontent with Maduro than love for the opposition, coalition head Jesus Torrealba urged Venezuelans to bury their differences.

“We have been divided for years and the country has won nothing with this historic mistake... The Democratic Unity is not here to mistreat anyone,” said Torrealba, who had been mocked by Maduro as an “evil Shrek” during the election campaign.

Reiterating that an amnesty law will be the opposition’s priority when the new assembly begins work on January 5, Torrealba promised to return the rights of “those who have been unjustly persecuted, jailed, blocked from politics, or exiled”.

He also reassured government supporters the coalition would not try to dismantle welfare programs that were popular during Chavez’s 1999-2013 rule and which Maduro has repeatedly warned the opposition wants to end.

With 99 seats to the Socialists’ 46 in counting so far — and results not yet in for the remaining 22 seats — the coalition looks certain to reach a three-fifths majority.

With two-thirds, they could shake up institutions such as the courts, widely viewed as pro-government.

More in this section

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox