Worldwide outcry grows after Maduro wins presidential election

Mike Pompeo. AFP

Mike Pompeo. AFP

Venezuelan officials declared socialist leader Nicolas Maduro the easy victor of Sunday's presidential election, while his leading challenger questioned the legitimacy of a vote marred by irregularities and called for a new ballot to prevent a brewing social crisis from exploding.

Mr Maduro also fell well short of the 10 million votes he said he wanted to win throughout the campaign. Turnout was under 50 per cent.

"They underestimated me", said a triumphant Maduro to cheers from his supporters as fireworks sounded and confetti fell at the presidential palace in Caracas.

He also expressed confidence in the ability of the Government of the South American nation to manage its internal affairs.

The government of Spain is adding its voice to a chorus of global condemnation of Venezuela's presidential election.

Panama's government followed suit, although fellow socialist republics Cuba and El Salvador sent congratulations.

In response, Venezuela suspended economic relations for three months with a hundred Panamanian businesses including Copa Airlines, Venezuela's primary air travel connection with Latin America.

The pro-government National Election Council says Maduro won 4 million votes more than independent challenger Henri Falcon.

CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced the results with 92.6 percent reporting and said the turnout was 46.1 percent, Deutsche Welle reported.

Both of Maduro's opponents accused electoral authorities of turning a blind eye to a slew of blatant violations, including the establishment of red tents just steps away from voting centers where ruling party activists scanned on cellphones government-issued "Fatherland Cards". It also promised to push global and regional entities not issue Venezuela new credit.

The cards are required to receive benefits including food boxes and money transfers, sparking allegations that votes were effectively being bought.

But despite the unleveled playing field and concerns of fraud, some government critics nonetheless questioned the wisdom of not participating in an election that looked to be its best chance in years to defeat Chavismo.

Leaders with the nation's fragmented opposition declared the widespread abstention a silent but forceful protest and vowed to regroup moving forward.

"I implore Venezuelans not to become demoralised, today Maduro is weaker than ever before". "That's what we need to do with our country".

But in the opposition stronghold of eastern Caracas, the leafy streets were largely empty.

The election has drawn broad criticism since some of Maduro's most-popular rivals were barred from running, and several more were forced into exile.

Reeling from a fifth year of recession, falling oil production and USA sanctions, Venezuela is seeing growing levels of malnutrition, hyperinflation, and mass emigration.

Though increasingly shunned in the West, Maduro can at least count on the support of China and Russian Federation, which have provided billions of dollars' funding in recent years.

"Venezuela's election was a sham - neither free nor fair".

Asked if China had sent congratulations to Maduro, he said China would "handle this in accordance with diplomatic convention", but did not elaborate.

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