April 20, 2013

New Venezuelan president endures rough start

Hugo Chavez's chosen successor will allow a full audit of his narrow election victory.

The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela - Inauguration day didn't go well for the man picked to lead Venezuela's socialist revolution for the next six years.

click image to enlarge

Nicolas Maduro salutes before delivering his inaugural speech at the National Assembly on Friday.

The Associated Press

Hours before his swearing-in, fellow South American leaders pushed President Nicolas Maduro into a concession allowing a full audit of the razor-thin vote that the opposition says he won by fraud. Then the massive crowds that used to pack the streets for late leader Hugo Chavez failed to appear.

Finally, a spectator rushed the stage and interrupted Maduro's inaugural speech, shouting into the microphone before he was tackled by security in an embarrassing gaffe.

It was an inauspicious start to the first full term of the burly former bus driver laboring in Chavez's shadow and struggling to inspire the fervor that surrounded the former lieutenant colonel during his 14 years in power. Maduro, who has the support of the Chavista bases, needs all the momentum he can muster to consolidate control of a country that is struggling.

Venezuelan government officials appeared confident there will be no reversal of the result by an audit that's only slated to begin next week and could drag on well into May. Many independent analysts agreed. Still, the announcement of the audit by the government-controlled National Electoral Council was a startling reversal for a government that insisted all week that there would be no review of Sunday's vote and took a hard line against the opposition.

The announcement late Thursday night came moments before the official start of an emergency meeting of the union of South American leaders, Unasur, to discuss Venezuela's electoral crisis. The leaders wound up endorsing Maduro's victory after their meeting in Lima, Peru, likely in exchange for his concession to the audit.

"Unasur applied a lot of pressure on Venezuela to accept a recount," said Alexandre Barros, an analyst with the Early Warning political risk group in Brasilia, Brazil. "The democratic legitimacy of Unasur as a group and of each one its members would be placed in doubt if Venezuela refused to accept a recount."

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said the audit will prove he won the presidency. And even if it leaves the vote standing and calms tensions, the recount will strengthen the opposition against a president whose narrow victory left him far weaker than Chavez ever was, analysts said.


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