With soaring prices and shortages of basic goods of all kinds, many Venezuelans are malnourished. It is common to find families who eat just twice a day, and with little protein, fresh fruit or vegetables in those meals. Two pounds of chicken or beef costs as much as the monthly minimum wage package, which, including food coupons, is worth about $2.50.
That is hardly a recipe for a president to win re-election, but Mr. Maduro sought to give himself every advantage in Sunday’s vote.
The electoral authorities banned the largest opposition political parties from taking part in the election, and key politicians were barred from running. Brutal repression of anti-government protests, and the arrests of many activists and leaders also weakened the opposition.
Electoral authorities also moved up the election to May, although it is traditionally held in December, allowing little time for the opposition to organize and campaign. They even eliminated the requirement that voters dip a finger in indelible ink, which is used to keep people from voting more than once.
In response, many opposition leaders called for an election boycott.
Mr. Falcón ultimately decided to break with the rest of the opposition and run against Mr. Maduro.
Mr. Maduro attributes the country’s problems to what he calls an economic war waged against Venezuela by the United States. But most economists place the blame on poor government management, corruption and broken policies, like tight controls over foreign exchange, an overvalued currency and price controls on goods.