Venezuelans vote in presidential polls as Maduro seeks reelection

CARACAS – Polls opened in Venezuela on Sunday for the South American nation’s presidential election – widely seen as a foregone conclusion.

The 55-year-old Socialist leader cast his ballot on Sunday in an election that sees him seeking reelection for a six-year term in an electoral process that has been criticized both inside and outside Venezuela and likely to bring fresh foreign sanctions.

The main opposition coalition is boycotting the election, though Maduro is not without challengers.

Maduro’s main rival in Sunday’s vote is Henri Falcon, a former state governor and onetime loyalist of the ruling party who broke ranks in 2010.

The country of 30 million people has endured political tumult and economic misery, including food and medicine shortages, and hyperinflation.

Because of the current situation, an estimated 1.6 million people fled the country between 2015 and 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Venezuelan people will also elect deputies of regional legislative assemblies.

The inauguration of the elected president will take place in January 2019. He will lead the country until 2025.

Maduro has been Venezuela’s President since former President Hugo Chavez died in 2013.

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Under Chavez, the country turned toward socialism. Many Venezuelans saw him as the hero of the poor. Before he died, Chavez picked Maduro as his successor, which helped put Maduro over the top in the 2013 presidential election.

Once he took power, Maduro kept up Chavez’s practices such as huge welfare programs and price controls for most goods, including food.

Venezuela holds the world’s largest supply of crude oil — which once seemed like an endless gusher of cash for the government.

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The plummeting of the price of oil in 2016 crashed the country’s economy. It has since completely collapsed, and the country now finds itself in the middle of a financial crisis. The International Monetary fund expects that inflation in Venezuela will reach 13,000% for 2018.