April 15, 2013 2:51PM

A Dubious Government Victory in Venezuela

According to Venezuela’s National Election Council (CNE), Nicolás Maduro, the chavista candidate in yesterday’s presidential election, beat the opposition’s Henrique Capriles by less than 265,000 votes—the narrowest margin in a Venezuelan election since 1968.

However, there are good reasons to believe there was foul play. After polling stations closed yesterday, there were numerous reports of irregularities where security forces or armed gangs prevented the opposition from participating in the vote count. Also, even after 98 percent of the votes had been reported, it took the government-controlled CNE five hours to announce the election result. In previous years, when the government won an election, the CNE would quickly announce the results. But when the opposition won the 2007 constitutional referendum, it took the CNE many hours to do so.

Moreover, the result seemed to have caught the opposition by surprise. Prior to the announcement, the Capriles campaign seemed optimistic about the results they were receiving from all over the country (the opposition had representatives in most polling stations and they—as long as they were allowed—fed Capriles’ command with information about the vote count at each station). Capriles himself refused to recognize the result, saying that Maduro was the defeated candidate and that the numbers released by the CNE were different from those his campaign had. He demanded a full recount of the votes.

Tellingly, Maduro’s victory speech didn’t sound like one. Maduro spent much of his address convincing people he had won fairly. Then he claimed that not recognizing his victory would amount to a coup. He seemed like a man with something to hide.

As on October 7th, when the late Hugo Chávez defeated Capriles by a much larger margin, the election wasn’t free or fair. In her column today [requieres suscription] in the Wall Street Journal, Mary O’Grady describes all the challenges that the opposition faced in this election cycle, including the support that Maduro received from Cuba’s security and intelligence apparatus. The fact that, even against those odds, Capriles managed to get 49.07% of the vote and be within a whisker of victory (at least according to the official report) shows that Maduro would’ve most certainly been defeated in a fair election.

It is now up to the opposition to document all the irregularities and prove that Maduro’s victory was fraudulent. Responsible governments in the Americas, including the U.S government, should withhold their recognition of Maduro’s victory until a full recount takes place.