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Chavez allies claim victory in Venezuela vote

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s political party said Sunday it had won 114 out of 167 seats in the Congress after opposition parties dropped out of elections protesting bias by authorities.
/ Source: Reuters

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s political party said on Sunday it had won 114 out of 167 seats in the Congress after opposition parties dropped out of elections protesting bias by electoral authorities.

The National Electoral Council was still tallying final results late Sunday, but with 114 seats in Congress for Chavez’s Fifth Republic Movement, or MVR, the pro-Chavez alliance would have an overwhelming majority to consolidate his socialist revolution.

MVR party chief Willian Lara said its preliminary figures showed his party and pro-Chavez lawmakers had won all the seats in parliament, handing the left-wing leader uncontested control over the legislature.

“MVR managed to get 114 deputies elected and according to the figures we have, all 167 members of the National Assembly are supporters of the project written into the Bolivarian constitution,” Lara said in a reference to Chavez’s policies.

'The silence of Venezuelans talks'
Initial tallies showed voter turnout was 25 percent, which Chavez critics will likely use to try to attack the new legislature’s legitimacy.

“The silence of Venezuelans talks,” said opposition Justice First party member Gerardo Blyde. “This silence shows the lack of confidence Venezuelans have in the electoral body.”

The election was calm in Caracas. But hours before voting, an oil pipeline in western Zulia State feeding the Amuay-Cardon refinery was damaged by blasts authorities called sabotage by Chavez foes. Fuel exports were not affected.

The new legislature starts on Jan. 5 and pro-Chavez lawmakers say they want to rewrite parts of the constitution to end re-election limits on the presidency and increase state economic controls.

Chavez foes fear this will hand more power to a president they already accuse of using a democratic facade to exercise authoritarian control over the Supreme Court and the electoral council.

Elected in 1998, Chavez has helped build his popularity by spending billions in oil revenues on health and education programs for the poor as part of the revolution he names after South American liberation hero Simon Bolivar.

Since a coup against him failed in April 2002, Chavez has frequently denounced what he calls U.S.-backed attempts to overthrow his government or even assassinate him as he strengthens ties with Cuba.

U.S. officials, who portray Chavez as a threat to democracy in Venezuela and the region, reject his anti-U.S. rhetoric as an attempt to stir nationalist sentiment and mobilize his power base among the poor.

Chavez: 'These old parties ... are already dead'
Most opposition groups abstained from voting on Sunday after accusing electoral authorities of favoring the populist leader and manipulating electronic voting machines.

Chavez accused U.S. officials of orchestrating the opposition boycott to trigger a political crisis. But he said the move included only a minority of candidates and could not invalidate the vote.

The Venezuelan leader, who led a failed coup as a young army officer, came to office promising to end years of neglect and corruption by traditional parties.

Their influence has dimmed after seven years of Chavez government during which he survived a coup in 2002 and an oil strike in early 2003 before he consolidated his power in 2004 by defeating a recall vote.

“These old parties, they are already dead -- but they are still hanging on, resisting death,” Chavez told reporters after voting in Caracas. “Now they’ve accelerated their own demise.”

After Chavez beat back the recall vote in 2004, his opponents struggled to overcome divisions and distrust of the electoral council, which they charge manipulated voting machines. Observers said they found no vote-tampering.