March 9, 2014
Venezuela municipal vote tests President's strength
Venezuelans voted in municipal elections today that are the biggest political test yet for President Nicolas Maduro as he tries to halt an economic slide and preserve the legacy of his late mentor, Hugo Chavez.
The outcome of ballots to choose 337 mayors and around 2,500 councillors will be seen as a sign of Maduro's strength, nine months after Chavez died from cancer and he narrowly beat opposition leader Henrique Capriles to win the presidency.
"All patriots must vote so we can give a victory to our commander (Chavez) and guarantee peace and future for the fatherland," Maduro, 51, tweeted in exhortation to supporters.
The ruling Socialist Party was likely to win a majority of municipalities thanks to its popularity in rural areas where most of the mayorships are located, while the opposition wants to keep control of big cities such as Caracas and Maracaibo.
Both sides were desperate to win the total popular vote, though most pollsters predict that would again be broadly split down the middle, like the April presidential poll.
Investors are watching the ballot to see if Maduro will have the strength for unpopular moves, such as a currency devaluation that would help state coffers but also spur inflation.
Should the opposition perform well, its leader Capriles has vowed to "go for Maduro," but has not specified how.
Unlike the presidential votes that Maduro won in April and Chavez last year, queues appeared thin at poll stations. A healthy turnout of 60 percent or more was forecast however.
Though local issues such as roads, street lights and utility services were bound to affect individual mayoral races, both sides in the polarized OPEC nation also see the overall results as a crucial show of their standing at national level.