Venezuela on Sunday went to the polls to elect governors for 23 states, the country’s first election since President Nicolas Maduro narrowly won an April presidential contest on a platform that promised political inclusion.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence made a last-minute visit to the border city of Cucuta, the epicenter of political turmoil, to support more than 2,600 opposition supporters who crossed the border into Colombia at the height of a recent wave of protests in the political crisis-stricken nation.
The visit comes less than two weeks after the United States imposed sanctions on Nicolas Maduro and 11 top government officials over the election.
Maduro has rejected the sanctions as an “act of war” against Venezuela, adding that his foes were seeking to sabotage his reelection effort.
Sunday’s vote, however, has been called by the government. With opposition party, Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), boycotting the elections, all but six of the republic’s 23 states are expected to be in the hands of the ruling Socialists.
“The government campaign and the elections system will be evaluated on their results,” said James Boylan, representative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The United States, Canada and European Union have urged Venezuelans to use the vote as an opportunity to demand reforms. While the Maduro government claims that elections, including the presidential vote, are democratic, critics charge the government with massive fraud during the last presidential vote.
But Boylan said any evaluation of the voting would come under the “influence of the agencies of the United Nations” — a reference to the UN.
Late on Saturday, European Union political director Christos Stylianides warned against any “breach of the electoral process,” which would “further weaken a sustainable political transition to democracy in Venezuela.”