© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A member of the Bolivarian National Guard takes pictures of the electoral materials during preparations for the regional and local elections on Sunday, in Caracas, Venezuela, November 19, 2021. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo
By Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas
CARACAS (Reuters) -Venezuelans headed to the polls on Sunday in local and regional elections which represent a major challenge for electoral authorities and opposition politicians alike, as the latter return to compete for votes against the government of President Nicolas Maduro for the first time in four years.
During the elections, over 3,000 state governors, mayors and city councils will be chosen across the South American country, which is beset by a long-running recession and hyperinflation.
The vote will test the impartiality of Venezuela’s electoral commission, which in May included two opponents among its top five directors, making it the most balanced board in 17 years, its members have said.
By 9:00 a.m., 95% of voting centers were working, electoral commission president Pedro Calzadilla told state television.
Other centers saw delays due to voting officials arriving late, while some voters complained their center had been changed without their knowledge.
European Union election observers will be present at around 1,000 of the 14,400 voting centers, the first such European mission since 2006.
Opposition politicians had boycotted presidential elections and parliamentary elections in 2018 and 2020 respectively accusing Maduro’s government of fraud. If they lose the 4 state governorships they won in 2017, they will lack a powerbase for campaigning in 2024’s for presidential elections.
Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed by the United States, among other countries, both urged supporters to vote on Friday night, though Guaido decried voting conditions.
In Maracaibo, capital of Zulia state, which is one of the regions most affected by electricity, water and fuel shortages, small groups of voters walked or cycled to polling stations due to lack of public transportation and gasoline.
Some 5 million Venezuelans have left the country due to its long-running economic crisis and hundreds continue to join caravans passing through Central America and Mexico headed for the United States.
“We don’t have electricity or water, nor transportation, but we’re going to vote, even on foot, because we’re fed up,” said 68-year-old pensioner Ernesto Urdaneta.
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