Leaders of Venezuela’s opposition are claiming victory ahead of official results in Sunday’ crucial legislative elections that could alter the country’s balance of power after 17 years of socialist rule.
Hours after polls closed, several opposition leaders took to the Internet to announce that they had won a majority of seats in the National Assembly for the first time since 1998.
But with no official results released and the ruling socialist party not commenting, their claims could not be confirmed.
“The results are as we expected. Venezuela won,” former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said on Twitter. .
“With great humility, serenity and maturity we accept what the people decided.”
An opposition victory would be a major setback for the socialist revolution started 17 years ago by the late Hugo Chavez, who until his death in 2013 had an almost-magical hold on the political aspirations of Venezuela’s long-excluded masses.
It would also be a major blow to Latin America’s left, which gained power in the wake of Chavez’s ascent but more recently has been struggling in the face of a region-wide economic slowdown and voter fatigue in some countries with rampant corruption.
Last month, Argentines elected a conservative businessman over the chosen successor of Cristina Fernandez, who was a close ally of Chavez. In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff is battling low approval ratings and facing impeachment over a corruption scandal in her left-leaning Workers’ Party.
President Nicolas Maduro had repeatedly vowed in recent weeks to take to the streets and defend the socialist system build by his mentor Chavez if his party lost, though on Sunday, he appeared to soften his tone.
“In Venezuela, peace and democracy must reign,” he said after voting in a working-class neighbourhood of Caracas.
“I’ve said we’ll take the fight to the streets, but maybe I was wrong. We can’t go where we’ve always been.”
If confirmed, it would be the opposition’s first major electoral victory since Chavez became President, with Venezuelans tired of rampant crime, routine shortages of basic goods and inflation pushing well into triple digits. The economic crisis has worsened with this year’s slump in oil revenue, which funds almost all public spending.