As Venezuela Opposition Shuns Vote, Leader’s Party Tightens Grip on Power

Mr. Maduro is expected to run for a second term in presidential elections planned for next year.

Earlier in the day, after casting his vote, Mr. Maduro threatened to ban from future elections those political parties that participated in the boycott. “They will disappear from the political map,” he declared.

The elections on Sunday unfolded against a backdrop of economic misery in Venezuela. According to statistics published last week by the National Assembly, inflation in November was nearly 57 percent — above the 50 percent mark that is commonly regarded as the threshold of hyperinflation. Profound shortages of food and medicine, the scarcity of cash and a general breakdown of public services continue to worsen by the day, driving a surge of emigration.

Opposition leaders argued that participation in Sunday’s voting would have served only to legitimize Mr. Maduro’s administration, which they — and some foreign governments — have called a dictatorship.

Despite the call for a boycott, an array of opposition candidates ran across the country, most as independents. Untethered from their parties — and from the scaffolding of support and money that such relationships bring — many of their campaigns barely registered with potential voters, providing little threat to the government-backed candidates of the United Socialist Party.

“I don’t know who any of the opposition candidates are,” said Jesús Gómez, 37, the chief of security for a supermarket chain, who was on his way to vote on Sunday in Ocumare del Tuy, a city south of Caracas, the capital.

All he was sure of was that he would vote — an expression of his rights, he said — and that he would cast his ballot against the Maduro government, even if he suspected that the electoral process would be riddled with fraud.

“Everything’s already prearranged,” he said. “This isn’t a secret at all.”

A majority of voters, however, stayed away: The national election board said Sunday night that about 47 percent of registered voters participated.

Throughout much of the day, many polling stations around the capital had barely a trickle of voters. In past elections, at least in some places, lines of people numbering in the hundreds snaked down the block and wait times stretched for hours.

“Total waste of time!” exclaimed Carlos Paez, a 44-year-old restaurant cook, who on Sunday morning was lifting weights with Edgar Martínez at a makeshift outdoor gym in downtown Caracas. Both men scoffed at the notion of voting; they had better things to do.

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“So much deception,” added Mr. Martínez, 29, a bartender. “I’m young and I feel this disillusionment with what’s happening. Imagine that!”

Opposition voters who turned out in defiance of the boycott said they were compelled by civic duty despite an overarching feeling of futility.

“They are going to win,” Estela Prisco, 69, said of the United Socialist Party’s candidates, while walking a Schnauzer on her way to vote in downtown Caracas.

“But still there are people who come out against them,” she said. “And at the very least they will look and see that there are voters who stand against them.”

Abstention appeared to be so high that in some places pro-opposition voters worried that their side was at risk of losing its grasp on mayoralties that until Sunday had seemed guaranteed.

One such place was El Hatillo, an affluent municipality in eastern Caracas, where the opposition has controlled the mayor’s office since the election of Mr. Maduro’s predecessor, President Hugo Chávez, in 1999. On Sunday, supermarkets had more people standing in line than did polling stations.

“We lost this,” said Carlos Araque, 73, an engineer. “I have never seen this. Only a few are coming to vote.”

Yon Goicoechea, one of the five opposition candidates contending to be mayor of El Hatillo, said that widespread abstention and disarray among the opposition assured that the government’s party “will win without fraud.”

Pro-government voters seemed far less anxious about the course of the day, saying that the opposition had only itself to blame for not fully taking advantage of the opportunity to choose leaders.

“That’s called thoughtlessness,” Juan Atencio, 80, a retired hotel administrator, said of the low turnout. “They think we have the elections secured.”

Standing outside a polling center in central Caracas, he said he intended to vote for the socialist party’s candidate in his municipality, Libertador. “I’m hoping that people become conscious of the need to maintain the process,” he said, referring to the socialist movement started by Mr. Chávez and continued by Mr. Maduro.

Mr. Atencio acknowledged that the country was passing through a tenuous, challenging moment but said that changes in political systems were always hard and required perseverance. Parroting Mr. Maduro, he blamed foreign governments, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, for the country’s economic crisis.

“But we’re going to resist until the last combatant dies,” Mr. Atencio said. “And that last combatant has not yet been born.”

Ana Vanessa Herrero contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on December 11, 2017, on Page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: Sitting Out Venezuela Vote, Many See ‘Waste of Time’. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

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