By: Anamaria Deduleasa
Venezuela’s opposition has crushed the ruling socialist government in polls to elect a new parliament on Sunday, winning the majority of seats in the country’s National Assembly.
In a blow to current President Nicolas Maduro, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) took 99 seats to just 46 for the ruling United Social Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the 167-national National Assembly.
There are still 22 undefined legislative seats because the race was too close to call.
However, for the first time in 16 years, since former president Chavez’s first election victory, the opposition gained a long-sought platform to challenge Maduro’s rule of the nation.
Voter participation was high, recorded at 74.3%, according to the BBC.
Venezuela, which depends on crude oil for 95% of its export revenue, saw its economy dive as global oil prices plunged from more than $100 a barrel to an average of $46 per barrel this year.
The vote comes as the major Opec nation faces major economic inflation, despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, a crippling recession and a rise in violence and insecurity, with a strong majority of the country’s population dissatisfied with the way things are going.
Last week, research released by the Pew Research Centre showed that 85% of Venezuelans are dissatisfied with their country, with 46% blaming the government’s economic policies, 43% falling oil prices, while only 6% pin domestic problems on the US.
The poll also revealed that only 43% of Venezuelans believe that the country should follow the policies of former president Chavez, compared with 52% who think it should not.
Although their victory was mainly thanks to public dissatisfaction with Venezuela’s deep economic recession, coalition head Jesus Torrealba said: “We’re going through the worst crisis in our history. Venezuela wanted a change and that change came … a new majority expressed itself and sent a clear and resounding message.”
“The results are as we hoped. Venezuela has won. It’s irreversible,” a leading opposition figure in MUD Henrique Capriles wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Maduro was quick to accept the results, although he blamed them on an “economic war” waged by the opposition.
In a televised address to the nation, he said: “We are here, with morals and ethics, to recognise these adverse results. The economic war has triumphed today.”
“We have lost a battle today, but the struggle to build a new society is just beginning,” Maduro said.
Following the win, the opposition has the power to veto government measures, such as a national budget.
The next presidential election is due in April 2019.