March 8, 2014
Maduro pledges to 'deepen the economic offensive' this week
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pledged to deepen his "economic offensive" to force businesses to cut prices after his ruling Socialist Party won the most votes in weekend municipal elections.
With three-quarters of the 337 mayoral races counted by this morning, the Socialists and their allies had 49 percent of votes, compared to 43 percent for the opposition coalition and its partners.
That result derailed efforts by Maduro's critics to turn the vote into a show of disapproval for his government and the legacy of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
The president's candidates benefited from a populist crackdown in November to force merchants to slash prices of goods such as TVs, car parts and home hardware.
"This week we are going to deepen the economic offensive to help the working class and protect the middle class," a triumphant Maduro told supporters in a rally after the results were announced late last night.
"This week it's going to be the housing and food sectors. We're going in with guns blazing, keep an eye out."
Maduro's personal approval rating jumped sharply after he instituted the economic measures, which won over consumers weary of the country's 54 percent annual inflation. Maduro blames the rising prices on an "economic war" he says is financed by political adversaries.
The initial steps focused on home appliances and later extended to controls on rent of commercial buildings such as shopping malls, to try to lower prices.
Yesterday's election was the biggest political test for Maduro since he narrowly won a presidential election in April following Chavez's death from cancer. He called the results a tribute to the late leader whose 14-year rule polarized the OPEC nation.
"Here it is, commander, the gift of your people ... the gift of loyalty and love," he told a crowd, whose mostly bored expressions broke into joyful chanting at the mention of Chavez's name.