Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro cast his ballot on Sunday in an election that sees him seeking a six-year term but is condemned by foes as the coronation of a dictator and likely to bring fresh foreign sanctions.
With the mainstream opposition boycotting the election, two of his most popular rivals barred from standing and state institutions in loyalists’ hands, the 55-year-old former bus driver is expected to win despite his unpopularity.
That could trigger oil sanctions from the U.S. government, and more censure from the European Union and Latin America.
Polls indicate Maduro is favoured to win thanks to a boycott of the election by his main rivals amid huge distrust of the nation’s electoral council, which is controlled by government loyalists.
The self-described “son” of Hugo Chavez says he is battling an “imperialist” plot to crush socialism and take over the OPEC nation’s oil wealth. But opponents say the leftist leader has destroyed Venezuela’s once-wealthy economy and ruthlessly crushed dissent.
More than one million Venezuelans have abandoned their country for a better life abroad in recent years, while those staying behind wait in line for hours to buy subsidized food and withdraw cash that’s almost impossible to find.
Maduro’s main challenger is former state governor Henri Falcon, who predicts an upset on the back of some polls showing him ahead and widespread fury among Venezuela’s 30 million people at the collapse of their economy.