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International observers monitor as Venezuelans cast ballots in local elections

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Polling stations in Venezuela started closing with no indication of where the results stood for the election of the country's governors and mayors. But after boycotts in 2018 and 2020, this time opposition candidates made an all-out effort to win. John Otis is in Caracas with this report.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Voters lined up at this polling place in Caracas on Sunday, where security guards sprayed their hands with disinfectant before allowing them inside. Citing a deep economic crisis, many were thrilled to see opposition candidates back on the ballots.

MIRNA HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "I don't like anything about this government because they can't fix anything," said Mirna Hernandez, who voted for a slate of opposition candidates.

(CROSSTALK)

OTIS: Most opposition candidates refused to participate in the last three elections, claiming the results were rigged. In addition, the government has banned prominent candidates and forced others into exile or prison. But these boycotts gave President Nicolas Maduro's ruling Socialist Party total control over every government institution.

ANDRES SCHLOETER: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "Unfortunately, the strategy didn't work," says Andres Schloeter, an opposition candidate for mayor in the eastern Caracas district of Sucre. "The opposition became much weaker."

(CROSSTALK)

OTIS: Ahead of Sunday's vote, the government made a few concessions, like allowing electoral observers from the European Union. Still, the opposition was shut out of state-run media. They also ran their campaigns on a shoestring due to the economic crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN O'REILLY: Look; we got to welcome their participation in Venezuela's public debate, men and women in the arena, despite the unfairness and the long odds.

OTIS: That's Kevin O'Reilly, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, speaking at a recent forum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

O'REILLY: But the real objective has to remain truly free and fair elections for president.

OTIS: For his part, Maduro crowed about early indications that his ruling party had done well in Sunday's balloting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Speaking at a news conference, he predicted the results would usher in a new era of peace and stability for Venezuela.

For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Caracas.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: This story incorrectly referred to Kevin O’Reilly as “the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America.” The top diplomat is the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. O’Reilly is a deputy assistant secretary of state.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.