By Mariela Nava and Keren Torres
MARACAIBO / BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (Reuters) – Election campaign for regional elections in Venezuela with opposition parties closed on Thursday – Return to the polls https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/with-catchy-jingles-cautious-optimism-venezuela -opposition-returns-ballot-2021-11-17 for the first time in four years – Calling voters to punish the ruling socialists for hyperinflation and deep recession.
Sunday’s elections for state governors, mayors and councilors are a great test of the fragmented opposition that boycotted the 2018 presidential election and two years later the congressional election, accusing Maduro’s government of fraud.
The vote will be monitored by European Union observers in around 1,000 of the 14,400 polling stations, the first European mission of its kind since 2006. The 100-strong team deployed across Venezuela on Thursday.
With turnout expected to be low among the 21 million registered voters, there is a risk that the divided opposition will lose to the well-funded Socialist Party’s electoral machinery.
Should the opposition lose the 4 governorships they won in 2017 – from 23 states – they would lack the power to campaign for the 2024 presidential election.
Opposition leaders have tried to mobilize the electorate by fighting high poverty and a collapse in public services, particularly outside the capital, Caracas.
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“There is no water here. There is no electricity. Candidate for governor of the western state of Zulia.
Rosales, a 68-year-old lawyer who was governor of Zulia between 2000 and 2008, is seen by pollsters as one of the most likely opposition candidates to win governorship. Polls predict that the opposition could also win in the southern border state of Tachira.
Zulia, a center of the Venezuelan oil industry, has been hit hard by power outages and a lack of drinking water and gas due to years of poor infrastructure investments.
“We will stop the destruction and Zulia will enter another phase in its history,” Rosales told Reuters in Maracaibo, the state capital.
The vote is a test of the impartiality of the Venezuelan Electoral Commission, which in May ranked two opponents among its top five directors, making it the most balanced board in 17 years, its members said.
Doubts about the independence of some candidates from Maduro’s government could affect the opposition’s performance. Critics accuse some of the opposition members of standing up to split the votes and help the ruling party.
In Lara state, Henri Falcón, a 60-year-old former governor, has been ostracized by many members of the opposition since stepping out of the ranks in the 2018 presidential election and opposing Maduro.
In the state capital Barquisimeto, posters with Falcon’s face and the logo of the ruling Socialist Party have appeared. The posters read: “Lara: Do not be fooled by the regime.”
Falcon denies any ties to the government and has vowed to defeat socialist candidate Adolfo Pereira on Sunday.
(Reporting by Mariela Nava in Maracaibo, Keren Torres in Barquisimeto and Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal; Additional reporting by Johnny Carvajal; Written by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Editing by Daniel Wallis)