CARACAS Dec 8 Venezuelan President Nicolas
Maduro pledged to deepen his "economic offensive" to force
businesses to cut prices after his ruling Socialist Party won
most votes in Sunday's municipal elections.
A partial count showed government allies won 49 percent of
the votes in 337 mayoral races, compared to 42 percent for the
opposition coalition, derailing efforts by Maduro's critics to
turn the vote into a plebiscite on his government and the legacy
of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
Maduro's candidates benefited from his crackdown in November
to force merchants to slash prices of goods such as TVs, car
parts and home hardware.
"This week we are going to deepen the economic offensive to
help the working class and protect the middle class," Maduro
told supporters in a rally after the results were announced.
"This week it's going to be the housing and food sectors.
We're going in with guns blazing, keep an eye out."
Maduro's personal approval rate jumped sharply after the
economic measures that won over consumers weary of the country's
54 percent annual inflation, which Maduro blames on an "economic
war" he says is financed by political adversaries.
The initial steps focused on home appliances, and later
extended to controls on rent of commercial buildings such as
shopping malls, to try to lower prices.
Sunday's election was the biggest political test for Maduro
since he narrowly won a presidential election in April following
Chavez's death from cancer. He called the results a tribute to
the late leader whose 14-year rule polarized the OPEC nation.
"Here it is, commander, the gift of your people ... the gift
of loyalty and love," he told a crowd, whose mostly bored and
listless expressions broke into joyful chanting at the mention
of Chavez's name.
The results may help Maduro to enact unpopular economic
measures such as a currency devaluation that Wall St. investors
call widely necessary to close the government's fiscal gap and
reduce capital flight.
But extending the price cuts may worsen product shortages
and reduce the productivity of a private sector already battered
by years of nationalizations.
Nor does the majority in the local polls help him address
the structural imbalances of a state-driven economy struggling
with slowing growth, the highest inflation in the Americas, and
embarrassing shortages of goods such as toilet paper.
Critics say he needs to scrap exchange controls and lift
restrictions on private businesses.
The Socialist Party had been widely expected to win a
majority of the total number of seats because the distribution
of voters makes it dominant in rural, sparsely-populated
But opposition leader Henrique Capriles had previously said
the opposition would win a majority of the total votes. The
results showed the continuing division over Chavez's legacy, he
"Nobody should feel defeated, we have a country that is
divided and we want Venezuela to be united," a
crestfallen-looking Capriles said in a late-night press
The Socialist Party's majority overshadowed opposition gains
in crucial areas such as the industrial city of Valencia, where
the party's mayor was recently arrested on corruption charges.
The opposition also won in Barinas, capital of the late
Chavez's home state that has for years been dominated by his
family - even though Maduro had decreed Dec. 8 a day of "Loyalty
and Love" to the former president.
The opposition is also expected to increase the total number
of mayors' seats it controls. Full results have not yet been
With no obvious threats to Maduro completing a term that
ends in 2018, even a better showing for the opposition would
have been largely symbolic. The next polls are for a new
National Assembly in late 2015.
Despite an unexpectedly strong showing in the April
presidential vote, Capriles has struggled to influence national
politics. Some anti-government activists are pressing for more
action, such as street protests.