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Venezuela's Opposition Wins Control Of The National Assembly


We're also tracking signs of a major political shift in South America. Leftist politicians who've dominated much of the continent have suffered recent defeats. A pro-business candidate won the presidency in Argentina. And then yesterday in Venezuela, the ruling Socialist government suffered a huge defeat. In legislative elections, the opposition won more than twice the seats of pro-government candidates. And that broke the power monopoly of the party founded by the late president Hugo Chavez. Reporter John Otis has more.



JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Shortly after midnight, Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced that the opposition had won a decisive majority in the National Assembly. Even before the results were announced, the opposition sensed victory.


LILIAN TINTORI: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "Venezuelans are voting massively for change, and change has arrived." That's Lilian Tintori. Her husband, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, is in prison. She and other voters gave the opposition its first victory in a national election since Chavez ushered in his socialist revolution in 1999. Chavez died of cancer two years ago. Since then, the country's gone into a tailspin. Venezuela has the world's highest inflation rate of about 200 percent, food shortages and an economy forecast to shrink by 10 percent this year - this, despite having the world's largest proven oil reserves. Francisco Toro writes a popular blog called Caracas Chronicles.

FRANCISCO TORO: The economic crisis had really reached into people's day-to-day lives. You are asking people to stand in line for three hours to buy toilet paper. There are rice-producing areas of the country where rice had not been available in stores for six months. And people are very angry about it.

OTIS: Still, the opposition had to overcome massive government campaign spending, arbitrary arrests and other dirty tricks, said Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington.

CYNTHIA ARNSON: First of all, one of the main opposition leaders is in jail - Leopoldo Lopez. Venezuela has extensive limitations on freedom of expression. And then to add to that, the most credible electoral observers were all prohibited from observing the election.

OTIS: There's also been fear-mongering. President Nicolas Maduro had warned that if the opposition won, there would be blood in the streets. But early Monday, Maduro acknowledged the results.


PRES NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: He blamed what he said was an economic war being waged against his administration. Toro says the government is in for a shock after dominating for so long.

TORO: The courts, the army, the oil company, they controlled the police and the prosecutors. They felt all powerful. They were all powerful. And now they're going to have to wake up to an extremely different kind of Venezuela.

OTIS: Even more so if the opposition ends up with a two-thirds majority in congress. That would allow it to call a constituent assembly to remake the government. It could even lead to Maduro's ouster, said David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America.

DAVID SMILDE: It's very likely that they would push for a recall referendum in 2016. And if they were able to get that recall referendum or to go to a vote, it's very likely that Maduro would be voted out as president.

OTIS: Venezuela's new legislature will be sworn in on January 5. For NPR News, I'm John Otis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.