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Flying Punches in Parliament Shows Post-Election Tensions Remain High in Venezuela

Claims of voter fraud offer no evidence, but ongoing instability could serve sinister purpose

-Jon Queally, staff writer

Nicolás Maduro at the presidental Palace of Miraflores, in Caracas, Venezuela, on 5 March. (Photograph: Mauricio Valenzuela/Xinhua/Corbis)Punches flew inside Venezuela's National Assembly on Tuesday exposing the ongoing tensions between recently elected President Nicolas Maduro and opposition lawmakers who refuse to acknowledge his victory in the emergency elections that followed the death of President Hugo Chavez in March.

Despite a mainstream press in the US that has been consistently hostile to Venezuela's leftist government and the Chavez legacy, there has been almost no evidence to support the claim by opposition party members that the country's elections were either "rigged" or "stolen".

Despite that, efforts continue to delegitimize Maduro's win and some observers claim this trend, whether knowingly or inadvertently, helps fuel the instability illustrated by Wednesday's dust-up among the rival parliamentarians.

The sign that opposition figures are seen holding up reads: "Golpe Al Parlamento" which translates as an accusation of a coup in the chamber. It is unclear from the available video exactly how the physical fight began, but the fingers on both sides were casting blame in the immediate aftermath.

As the Guardian reports:

Government legislators blamed their "fascist" rivals for starting the violence, which illustrated the volatile state of politics after the death of socialist leader Hugo Chávez in March.

"We knew the opposition came to provoke violence," Maduro said of the incident. "This must not be repeated."

The 50-year-old Maduro, who was Chávez's chosen successor, defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.5 percentage points. Capriles, 40, has refused to recognise his victory, alleging that thousands of irregularities occurred and the vote was "stolen".

Al-Jazeera adds:

The fracas came after the government-controlled assembly passed a measure denying opposition members the right to speak in the chamber until they recognised Maduro as president.

"Until they recognise the authorities, the institutions of the republic, the sovereign will of our people, the opposition deputies will have to go and speak (to the private media) but not here in this National Assembly," said Diosdado Cabello, the head of parliament.

Both sides accused each other of starting the incident, which took place behind closed doors without media present.

In another potential flashpoint for Venezuela, the government and opposition are planning rival marches in Caracas on Wednesday to commemorate May Day.

Though mainstream media in the US continues to paint Capriles' claims of fraud as serious, Dan Beeton, from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, notes that almost no evidence actually exists to defend such claims. Beeton juxtaposes recent electoral controversy in Venezuela to another contentious election results in Latin America where the US media frame was set with a much different guage.

Beeton writes:

Despite the lack of evidence of fraud, or any plausible explanation for how the election could have been stolen in spite of the integrity of the Venezuelan electoral system, press reports and commentary continue to treat Capriles’ claims seriously. This stands in contrast to the foreign media’s treatment of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s cry of “fraud” following the 2006 election in which Felipe Calderon was declared the winner. “An Anti-Democracy Campaign; Mexico's presidential loser takes a lesson from Joseph Stalin,” ran a Washington Post editorial headline. The Times of London declared him “Mexico's bad loser: A demagogue prepared to hold the nation to ransom,” while the Toronto Globe and Mail called him “Mexico's sore loser.” So far at least, no major U.S., British or Canadian paper has labeled Capriles a “sore loser” and the Washington Post has yet to compare him to Stalin.

On the election results themselves, which CEPR analyzed closely, Beeton adds:

The math is pretty straightforward. Considering how many votes by which Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner, and that the initial audit of 54 percent of machines didn't find anything, and considering how many votes there are per machine, it is almost impossible for the remaining 46 percent of machines to have enough discrepancies to change the election results.

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