Venezuela leader reelected amid charges of irregularities kansas gas service login

This oil-producing nation is facing a near-total societal collapse because of mismanagement, corruption and a crumbling socialist system, fueling widespread hunger and medical shortages that have sparked the largest migrant crisis in modern South American history. Traditional opposition parties were barred from fielding candidates, and had called for a broad boycott of Sunday’s vote amid fears that Maduro is moving to cement dictatorial power.

The government announced a 46 percent turnout — the lowest for a presidential election here since the 1940s. With near-empty polling stations across Venezuela, the opposition coalition, known as the Broad Front, claimed that only about 30 percent of voters had cast ballots.

The electoral commission said that with 92 percent of the vote counted, Maduro — the anointed successor of the late leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013 — had won a second six-year term, with 67.7 percent of the vote. His closest challenger — Henri Falcón, a former governor who broke with Chavez in 2010 — said he would not recognize the result, and called for a new election.

Maduro’s challengers in the race, as well as the opposition coalition that called for the boycott, decried systematic election violations. Falcón said that his election monitors had been barred from observing at many polling stations, and that the government had dolled out bonuses to Maduro voters.

The coalition said the government had used state-owned buses to bring in supporters at 78 percent of polling stations. Opponents also charged that government benefit registries were located illegally close at most polling places, suggesting a tit-for-tat relationship between votes for Maduro and access to state food aid.

On Sunday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said Washington would not recognize the results and was considering additional sanctions, including an oil embargo. But he also expressed caution about such a step, which could have dire humanitarian consequences on the ground.

Maduro had faced two main opponents – Falcón and Javier Bertucci, an evangelical preacher. Ahead of the vote, some polls showed Maduro and Falcón, who broke with then-President Chávez in 2010, running almost neck and neck. The election commission, controlled by Maduro supporters, reported Falcón had received 21 percent of the vote, and Bertucci 11.6 percent.

Critics say the government has committed fraud to win the last three elections and had predicted that the incumbent would ensure his victory. On Sunday, both Falcón and Bertucci denounced voting irregularities, arguing the government had doled out food and money in exchange for votes.

Although Falcón said late Sunday that he would not recognize the result, he appeared to back away from calls for civil disobedience or military intervention. Analysts suggested that he may be attempting to forge a more passive opposition movement that could be potentially be more acceptable to the government.

Opposition voters struggled with whether to honor the boycott. In eastern Caracas, Maria Diaz, a 30-year-old accountant whose infant child died in a public hospital last month due to a lack of medicines, said she voted for Falcón “because I don’t think you win anything by abstaining.”

A salsa-loving former bus driver and union leader, Maduro, 55, has sought victory by offering food at rallies and railing against “el Imperio” — the Empire, as he often dubs the United States. On Sunday, pro-government vans with loudspeakers roamed the streets, evoking the name of Chávez and urging Maduro supporters to turn out.

Some analysts, however, say that Maduro could have won without rigging the vote, in part because his government has created an uneven playing field. Many Venezuelans said they feared losing government jobs or benefits — particularly subsidized government food baskets known as CLAP boxes. Government officials set up registration booths for benefits next to — sometimes inside — polling stations.

“I already voted, and I’m now going to register for benefits, because that’s what they’re telling us to do,” said Andrea Hernandez, a 19-year-old holding her 3-month-old daughter. “The bonuses, the CLAP boxes. If I don’t vote for the government, they might stop giving me these benefits.”

Last week, the United States added to the list of government officials under sanction, targeting the head of the ruling party, Diosdado Cabello, and his family members. U.S. officials have also been seeking to persuade regional banking centers, such as Panama, to crack down on the illicit cash of senior Venezuelan officials, including several charged by Washington with drug trafficking.

Yet a number of global autocrats, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have backed Maduro. Russia has emerged as Maduro’s main benefactor, and Moscow dispatched a 14-member mission to serve as observers of Sunday’s vote.

More than 1 million Venezuelans — many of them starving and desperate for medical aid — have fled the country since 2015. Those numbers have spiked in recent months, with aid groups predicting a dramatic new surge after Sunday’s vote, worsening staffing shortages at hospitals, schools and crude upgraders.

Plagued by a flight of expertise and a lack of maintenance and investment, oil production — the main source of hard currency in a nation with the globe’s largest reserves — is crumbling. Output last month fell to 1.43 million barrels a day — less than Venezuela was producing in 1950.

“I don’t think any politician except Chávez in his best years would be able to rule this country for long, because it’s simply ungovernable, collapsed in every sense,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political consultant. “On May 21, Maduro will find himself hostage of a situation that he himself has bred. I don’t think he’ll last more than 12 months.”

Given the relative weakness and the extent of corruption in the military, however, few here are reading a coup in the tea leaves. If Maduro leaves, experts say, it is more likely to be through a negotiated pact that offers him and his inner circle certain guarantees.

Others suggest Maduro could linger longer than many think. They point to Cuba’s “special period” in the early 1990s, when food scarcities hit the nation following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Observers at the time wrote Fidel Castro’s political epitaph, as it turns out, prematurely.

Venezuela’s current crisis is relatively worse than those hard years in Cuba. And every time he has scented sedition, Maduro has moved quickly – arresting a growing number of senior figures and rank-and-file soldiers who seem remotely disloyal.

That Maduro continues to rule “is a very real possibility that has to be taken seriously,” said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank. “The Venezuelan government does see this as their special period, like Cuba in the 1990s, and they are thinking they can get through a couple of tough years and then seek better relations both regionally and internationally.”