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With president Nicolás Maduro under increasing pressure to allow vote of support for opposition leader Leopoldo López, the number of members of regional congress is cut from 649 to 471
Venezuelans head to the polls on Wednesday in regional elections under international scrutiny amid mounting tensions surrounding the presidency of Nicolás Maduro.
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Results in the 18 states are expected to be known as early as Thursday morning, with the country’s cronyistic political elite aiming to rubber-stamp an incumbent president having acknowledged that his country is on the brink of total economic and political collapse.
Almost 30 million Venezuelans have been pre-registered to vote – out of the country’s 29 million population – with candidates vying for local state governorships and for the National Constituent Assembly, whose power is inextricably tied to the country’s current president.
Maduro is seeking a second six-year term as head of state after enjoying the support of the dominant United Socialist party of Venezuela (PSUV) for 13 years.
Pro-opposition forces have urged the president to resign and called for an opposition boycott of the poll – with the ex-governor and top opposition leader Leopoldo López now jailed on accusations of terrorism, and his wife under house arrest.
With the Venezuelan currency near worthless and days of unpaid salaries fuelling shortages of basic goods and climbing unrest among businesses and citizens, the turnout figures are expected to be minuscule, so the number of candidates backing the socialist administration is crucial.
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Maduro this week proudly announced a 63% turnout in the municipal elections of 2015 when he was elected president and 669 candidates secured seats in the National Constituent Assembly.
Critics will be watching the activity in the capital, Caracas, where citizens have taken to the streets in recent weeks in mass protests. The National Constituent Assembly even rewrote the country’s constitution this year – something the opposition has largely slammed as a groundless ruse to let the socialist president to win another term.
For the first time since Maduro came to power in 2013, there has been unrest in the major cities of Caracas and Maracaibo, where demonstrators are protesting against the heavy-handed militarisation of security forces and the high number of people who have died as a result of the clashes.
Last week opposition supporters were also blockading major streets after streets were turned into war zones on 26 June when authorities unleashed water cannons, teargas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
Maduro’s government has consistently sought to downplay the disruption but has also faced accusations of gross human rights violations after vowing to crack down on criminal gangs, demonstrators and protesters in the largely opposition-held east of the country.
At least six opposition leaders, including López, have been jailed.
Two prominent military figures have been gunned down and another four have fled to neighbouring Colombia.
About 3,000 members of the security forces have also been arrested, according to human rights activists, and thousands more have been chased out of the country and forced to flee into Colombia, Brazil and Paraguay.
Venezuela has become the largest recipient of refugees and internally displaced people of any South American country, with more than 1 million Venezuelans having fled to neighbouring Colombia alone.