Dec. 7 (UPI) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has claimed a landslide victory in National Assembly elections viewed as illegitimate by much of the Western world, dealing a blow to U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Indira Alfonzo, president of the National Electoral Council, announced Monday that Maduro’s Great Patriotic Pole political alliance party won 67.6% of the more than 5.2 million votes cast on Sunday, giving the embattled president control of the former opposition-led 277-seat National Assembly, the last democratic institution in the socialist country.
The names of Guaido and other opposition lawmakers were absent from the ballot as they boycotted the vote and instead sponsored a weeklong referendum calling for Venezuelans to reject Maduro’s “usurpation of the presidency.”
Only 31% of eligible voters cast ballots in the election, according to Alfonzo.
Maduro described the elections Monday in a speech as having been free, democratic and a victory over the United States’ sanctions, according to the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Venezuela is fighting a great battle for its dignity and independence, and yesterday the people sent a very clear message of their wishes for peace and democracy,” Maduro said in the speech.
He defended the election as being auditable, safe and transparent, stating “popular sovereignty is sacred.”
The United States has imposed sanctions against Venezuela for more than a decade, but the Trump administration redoubled efforts after Maduro’s 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate and has since designated more than 150 people and sanctioned its state oil company, government and central bank.
A coalition of some 58 countries, led by the United States, has backed Guido’s claim to the country’s helm, which is based on his position as leader of the National Assembly.
Maduro, however, has managed to maintain his grip on power through the support of Cuba, Russia and China, U.S. officials have said.
“Venezuela is the world epicenter of an imperial attack by the United States and by the West to achieve regime change in our country,” Maduro said Monday.
The election was met with widespread disavowal on Monday from the Western world, with the United States issuing a harshly worded condemnation accusing Venezuela of staging “a political farce intended to look like a legislative election.
“Fortunately, few were fooled,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, accusing Maduro of having “brazenly rigged these elections” through seizing political parties, manipulation of the election process, violence and intimidation.
“This farce was nothing more than an attempt to install a complicit, puppet National Assembly, beholden only to Maduro, while destroying the country’s only remaining democratic institution truly representative of the Venezuelan people,” the United States’ top diplomat said.
Britain, Canada, Colombia and the European Union, among other nations, issued statements that said they will not recognize the election.
The EU said it cannot recognize the election as it was conducted without an agreement on electoral conditions and failed to comply with the minimum international standards for a credible democratic process.
“This lack of respect for political pluralism and the disqualification and prosecution of opposition leaders do not allow the EU to recognize this electoral process as credible, inclusive or transparent, and its results as representative of the will of the Venezuelan people,” Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU, said in a statement.
Guaido told the press Monday from the Plaza de Los Palos Grandes in the capital of Caracas that the opposition will not be swayed by the election, calling on those who boycotted the election Sunday to take to the streets Saturday in mass demonstrations.
“The answer we give to the dictatorship is here we are and we will stand firm until we lead Venezuela to freedom and democracy,” he said. “We stand firm and in resistance.”
Pompeo said the United States will continue to recognize Guaido as the interim president.
“The international community cannot allow Maduro, who is in power illegitimately because he stole the 2018 election, to gain from stealing a second election,” he said, urging countries to condemn the election.
“Neither Maduro nor a new, fraudulently elected National Assembly will represent the legitimate voice of the Venezuelan people, which should be expressed through free and fair presidential elections,” Pompeo said.