Venezuela vote likely to give Congress to Maduro's party

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A soldier guards a voting poll at a school that has the eyes of the late President Hugo Chavez painted on a wall during elections to choose members of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. The vote, championed by President Nicolas Maduro, is rejected as fraud by the nation's most influential opposition politicians. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

CARACAS – Venezuela's congressional election on Sunday will almost certainly give President Nicolás Maduro control over the country's last major independent institution, but will do little to improve his image at home and abroad.

Maduro, who already has the loyalty of the courts, the military, prosecutors and other institutions, seeks to load the National Assembly with members of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Critics say he's guaranteed that by rigging the system to smother the last remnants of democracy in Venezuela.

An opposition coalition led by U.S.-backed politician Juan Guaidó is boycotting the vote. The European Union, the U.S. and several other nations have already declared the vote a sham.

“The truth cannot be hidden,” Guaidó said in a videotaped message, noting the apparent low voter turnout. “The majority of Venezuela turned its back on the fraud that began months ago.”

Voting results were not available late Sunday several hours after the polls had closed.

Despite Venezuela's political turmoil, voting took place with no apparent problems in Caracas, where polling places were operated by civilian militia members and armed soldiers alongside election workers.

A light flow of voters walked up to ballot boxes at Andres Bello School in downtown Caracas. They checked their names on a wall outside, and inside showed identification cards before registering their votes on touchscreen machines, which printed a paper ballot they dropped into a box.

“I came to vote, and in less than half a second I have voted, quickly,” Caracas resident Rafael Espinoza said. “I’ll tell anyone who wants to do so that they can come down and vote in fractions of a second.”