Venezuela's Maduro faces difficult 'start'

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Venezuela's Maduro faces difficult 'start'

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They announced a victory in Caracas, but it was by far fewer votes than expected. At the end of presidential election day in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro’s supporters cheered as they had for his mentor Hugo Chávez. But 700,000 votes had swung to the opposition.

Maduro still had the lion’s share. He was off to a difficult start, but he put on the best face he could.

He said: “Capriles, I told you, and I’ll say it publicly: If I lose by one vote I’ll hand over to you tomorrow. But that’s not how it happened. I won by 300,000 votes. The people have spoken.”

In the streets, however, many spoke out against the election results, saying it was a fraud. The margin in Maduro’s favour was a mere 1.6 percent. Venezuela hadn’t seen one that narrow in 50 years. How legitimately can Maduro govern? Clashes over the dispute turned violent; seven people were killed.

Before Maduro claimed victory on the balcony, the candidate of the opposition had demanded a recount.

Henrique Capriles said: “We believe that we won the elections. The other electoral camp believes they won the elections. Each of us has the right to count our votes.”

Venezuelans awarded the new Chavismo leader a weak hand – not so free to spread around the country’s oil wealth the way the late Hugo Chavez did in financing robust social programmes. On top of that, people can already see how Maduro has coped during the transition during his predecessor’s illness and following his death.

Analyst Jorge Castro chalked up his record so far as a series of failures: “In the last 100 days, there have been two devaluations in Venezuela, the currency losing 80 percent of its previous value. We also still have shortages of basic resources. Inflation remains at 30 percent per year. That is even though Venezuela is one of the world’s five main oil producers. It’s in headlong decline.”

Maduro must also consider what to do to make Venezuela safer. It is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with armed attacks common in its cities and kidnapping increasing.