Voters in Venezuela’s Barinas state return to polls to choose governor

BARINAS, Jan 9 (Reuters) – Voters in Venezuela’s Barinas state, a stronghold for the ruling Socialist party and birthplace of deceased former President Hugo Chavez, went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new governor in a re-run of voting last November.

The Chavez family have governed Barinas, which straddles Venezuela’s western plains, for two decades. But when local and regional elections were held in November, the ruling Socialist party did not emerge victorious.

Instead, the Supreme Court ordered the vote be repeated after disqualifying opposition candidate Freddy Superlano. The decision followed an order made by the comptroller general in August saying Superlano was under administrative investigations and was disqualified from running.

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Ruling party candidate Argenis Chavez, brother of the deceased former leader, pulled out of the re-run, with former Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza instead competing against the new opposition candidate Sergio Garrido.

The state has about 500 voting centers, with some 600,000 registered voters.

After casting his vote, Arreaza told journalists that if he wins, he will hold talks with all sectors of Barinas, including the opposition, and would restart the local refinery, among other measures.

Garrido, expressing confidence in his victory said: “The people of Barinas are coming out to vote and tonight there will be parties and joy.”

Socialist party vice president Diosdado Cabello and two of Chavez’s three daughters have accompanied Arreaza, while Garrido was joined by leaders from the four main opposition parties.

Since November, the ruling party has tried to sway voters, including delivering subsidized bags of food, and ramping up gasoline supplies, with advocacy groups and opponents denouncing the moves as misuse of state funds.

European Union observers were present for the November voting, who reported that campaigning was marked by “extended use of state funds.” read more

No observers are present for this election.

Whatever the result, it will not alter the Socialist party’s control of the majority of governorships, but could offer a symbolic victory for the fractured opposition.

While the ruling party won governorships in 19 of Venezuela’s 23 states in November, the number of votes it received dropped to 3.9 million, according to election authorities, down from 5.9 million votes during regional elections in 2017.

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Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Barinas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Pravin Char and Bill Berkrot

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