CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's opposition won a key two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in legislative voting, according to final results released Tuesday, dramatically strengthening its hand in any bid to wrest power from President Nicolas Maduro after 17 years of socialist rule.
More than 48 hours after polls closed, the National Electoral Council published the final tally on its website, confirming that the last two undecided races broke the opposition coalition's way, giving them 112 out of 167 seats in the National Assembly that's sworn in next month. The ruling socialist party and its allies got 55 seats.
The publication ends two days of suspense in which Maduro's opponents claimed a much-larger margin of victory than initially announced by electoral authorities, who were slow to tabulate and release results that gave a full picture of the magnitude of the Democratic Unity opposition alliance's landslide.
The outcome, better than any of the opposition's most-optimistic forecasts, gives the coalition an unprecedented strength in trying to rein in Maduro as well as the votes needed to sack Supreme Court justices and even remove Maduro from office by convoking an assembly to rewrite Hugo Chavez's 1999 constitution.
Although divided government should foster negotiations, Maduro in his first remarks following the results showed little sign of moderating the radical course that voters rejected.
Even while recognizing defeat, the former bus driver and union organizer blamed the "circumstantial" loss on a right-wing "counterrevolution" trying to sabotage Venezuela's oil-dependent economy and destabilize the government.
On Tuesday, Maduro visited Chavez's mausoleum in the 23 of January hillside slum where the government suffered a shock loss in Sunday's vote. Accompanied by members of his top military command, he accused his opponents of sowing discrimination and class hatred, cautioning workers who voted for the opposition that they would regret their decision to abandon support for the government.
"The bad guys won, like the bad guys always do, through lies and fraud," said Maduro. "Workers of the fatherland know that you have a president, a son of Chavez, who will protect you."
Hardliners in the notoriously fractious opposition seem similarly inflexible, preferring to talk about ending Maduro's rule before his term ends in 2019 rather than resolving Venezuela's triple-digit inflation, plunging currency and the widespread shortages expected to worsen in January as businesses close for the summer vacation.
Moderates however are calling for dialogue to give Maduro a chance to roll back policies they blame for the unprecedented economic crisis. But with most Venezuelans bracing for more hardship as oil prices, the lifeblood of the economy, hover near a seven-year low, even they recognize the window for change is small and closing fast.
"If Maduro doesn't change we'll have to change the government," Gov. Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro in 2013 presidential elections, told The Associated Press. "But the opposition's response to the economic crisis right now can't be more politics."
Joshua Goodman in on Twitter: twitter.com/apjoshgoodman. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/joshua-goodman
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