Venezuelans voted for a new legislature on Sunday in an election that may punish the ruling Socialists for a brutal economic crisis and give the opposition a long-sought platform to challenge President Nicolas Maduro.
Chronic product shortages and the world’s highest inflation could hand “Chavismo” a first loss in the National Assembly since the movement’s charismatic late founder, Hugo Chavez, took office in 1999, polls show.
Winning a majority of the 167 seats would not give the opposition power to overhaul the dysfunctional state-led economy. But it would shatter the Socialist Party’s aura of invincibility and may embolden foes to seek a recall of Maduro in 2016.
It would also deal another blow to Latin America’s left after Argentina swung to the right in last month’s presidential election.
“Our time has arrived,” said Diana Rodriguez, 37, a teacher and mother-of-two voting in affluent east Caracas, dressed in white in solidarity with imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and other activists in jail.
“This country is no longer ‘Chavista’. Chavez died and no-one can stand the man who’s replaced him.”
A former bus driver and foreign minister, Maduro, 53, voted in the same poor neighborhood that his mentor and predecessor used to, on a hill overlooking the presidential palace.
Flanked by family and red-shirted party militants, Maduro promised that the government’s priority, should it re-take the assembly, would be to tackle Venezuela’s economic problems and defeat the “parasitic bourgeoisie.”
After government supporters woke voters up with horns and fireworks before dawn, long queues formed at voting centers around the…