Nicolas Maduro wins Venezuelan presidential election

15 April 2013 08:11  [Source: ICIS news]

MEDELLIN, Colombia (ICIS)--Hugo Chavez’s anointed successor Nicolas Maduro won a narrow victory in Venezuela’s presidential election on Sunday, defeating the opposition candidate by just 300,000 votes, the country’s electoral council (CNE) said.

Maduro, of the ruling United Socialist Party, took 50.8% of the vote, with Henrique Capriles, of the centre-right First Justice Party, on 49.1%, the CNE said.

CNE spokeswoman Tibisay Lucena said that 99% of the votes had been counted and that the results were “irreversible.”

Voter turnout was 78.7%, the council said with 19m Venezuelans in the country and 100,000 overseas had been registered to vote.

Maduro, who had been interim President since 5 February following Chavez’s death after a long battle with cancer, had benefitted from the former leader’s saint-like persona during his election campaign.

Maduro said at a rally shortly after the results were announced that his victory was proof that Chavez “continues to be invincible, and that he continues to win battles”.

The 50-year old former bus driver and union activist pledged to continue Chavez’s self-styled “Bolivarian Revolution”.

“I’m here to assume my responsibility with courage,” he said.

The election passed off without major incident, although local media reported outbreaks of violence at some voting centres.

There was no immediate comment from Capriles, and it was not clear if he would challenge the result.

The opposition candidate, who had lost to Chavez in October’s election by an 11-point margin, had earlier alleged a plot to manipulate the election results.

“We alert the country and the world of an intention to change the will of the people,” he announced on Twitter after polls had closed.

Notwithstanding a challenge to the result, Maduro will now begin a six-year presidential term, and is free to continue his predecessor’s economic and social policies.

However, the new President will be under pressure to rejuvenate the nation’s oil industry, an industry that is vital to the government’s revenue and export earnings.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Venezuela has the world’s second largest oil reserves; however, oil production has fallen from 3.5m bbl/day in 1995 to current levels of around 2.5m bbl/day.

Furthermore, detractors of state-run oil company PDVSA point to alleged mismanagement, under-investment, rising fuel imports and a crippling debt burden that rose to $40bn (€30.4bn) in 2012 – up by almost 15% from $34.9bn in 2011.

Questions concerning safety and transparency, or lack thereof, also endure.

PDVSA was recently slated by Javier Larranaga, head of the country’s Centre for Energy Guidance (Coener), for what he saw as a lack of strict safety protocols.

He also attacked the company’s management for having failed to publish a report six months on from the Amuay refinery explosion that killed 42 people.

The extent to which the new President has the ability, or inclination, to address these problems, is a moot point.

Maduro will be officially sworn in on 19 April.

By: Simon West

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