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Venezuela's Presidential Election Remains Disputed


OK, Venezuela's presidential election is not precisely tied but remains in dispute. The government declared Nicolas Maduro the winner on Sunday night. He's the man picked by the late President Hugo Chavez to become his successor. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is challenging his narrow defeat - less than a percentage point - and Capriles' supporters clashed with police yesterday.

NPR's Juan Forero is on the line from Caracas. And Juan, what is the opposition case here, that something was wrong with the election?

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Well, the opposition is saying that there were several hundred irregularities across the country on election day. And they're saying that their own count had showed that they had squeaked a victory. So they're saying, let's count the ballots. The machines here are automated for the election, but they produce a paper ballot. So you could, feasibly, do a recount.

INSKEEP: So the opposition wants that. And I know there is one election official, at least, who has said he would like to recount 100 percent of the ballots. Is there any chance that could actually happen?

FORERO: Yeah. Well, one election official did say that. And then Nicolas Maduro, on Sunday night in his victory speech, he simply said we're going to do it. He said we're not afraid. Let the boxes talk. Let the truth be told. But then, on Monday, the state began to shift completely against this. And there was, you know, sort of this barrage of advertisements on state television talking about how good the electoral system is, how foolproof it is.

And then finally, government officials started to come out to accuse the opposition of being anti-democratic, and that the opposition actually wanted to topple the government, and so forth. And by the end of the day, Nicolas Maduro had been proclaimed the winner by electoral authorities in a ceremony. And it was sort of cast as a group of coup plotters who were trying to take over his government.

INSKEEP: Well, let me try to understand the odds of some real problems here, Juan Forero, because it's been said in past elections that while Venezuela's government tilted the playing field - messed with the media, made sure that they had every possible advantage going into an election - it was widely believed that at least the ballots were properly counted in the end.

FORERO: Well, that's true. In the past, the elections here have been certified, and people have called the actual counting of the vote as free and fair. Though, of course, there have always been problems with the campaign because of the tilted playing field. But here you had a situation where the opposition said that there were so many irregularities on the day of the vote, across the country, that there really needed to be a recount here.

INSKEEP: Although we are talking about millions of ballots. Now, is the opposition organizing daily protests at this point?

FORERO: I don't know how organized the protests really are. There was a lot of anger from the opposition ranks over the way this thing turned out. And by yesterday, on Monday, you had people in the streets. There were a lot of folks who came out banging pots and pans, burning tires. And more aggressively, there were clashes, of course, between National Guard troops and university students.

INSKEEP: Juan, what does it say about Nicolas Maduro - the guy who's been declared the winner - that his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, won elections by double-digits again and again, and Maduro, even according to the government, just barely won this one?

FORERO: Hugo Chavez was just a monster on the campaign trail. He had a way of really connecting with people. He was, in many ways, the perfect candidate, and Maduro is not. Maduro was really unable to connect with people. People at the rallies they held had a lot of fun. There was a lot of music, a lot of people went, and a lot of people obviously want the Hugo Chavez government to continue.

But, you know, when they would start hearing Maduro talk, they would sort of fade away. Maduro's a poor public speaker. He rambles, and he just hasn't been able to make that sort of connection with the people.

INSKEEP: NPR's Juan Forero, in Caracas. Thanks very much.

FORERO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Juan Forero