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Venezuelan opposition is regrouping after the ruling party dominated election

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to Venezuela, where after several electoral boycotts, opposition candidates ran in local elections last weekend. But they lost to the ruling party of President Nicolas Maduro. And it was the latest in a series of blows for the opposition, which is now trying to regroup. Reporter John Otis has more from Caracas.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: After declaring victory in Sunday's elections, President Nicolas Maduro noted that the ruling Socialist Party has dominated Venezuela for more than two decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "We've won 27 of the past 29 elections," Maduro said. "We are a major force in Venezuelan history." However, a group of electoral observers from the European Union pointed to numerous flaws in Sunday's balloting.

ISABEL SANTOS: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: The group's spokeswoman, Isabel Santos, said, ruling party candidates dominated state TV, giving them a huge advantage in publicity. She said the government banned some opposition candidates, and she criticized the pro-government National Electoral Council for ignoring these abuses. Still, the opposition, an unruly coalition of some 20 parties with diverse ideologies generated many of their own problems. One example was here in Sucre, an eastern district of Caracas, where Andres Schloeter campaigned for mayor. Schloeter thought he had an agreement to be the only opposition candidate in the race.

ANDRES SCHLOETER: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "But just days before the election," he says, "another opposition candidate jumped in." They ended up splitting the protest vote and handing an easy victory to a pro-Maduro candidate. The same thing happened in dozens of other races. Through it all, Schloeter complaints, the leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido, was nowhere to be found.

SCHLOETER: For example, he didn't ask people to go to these elections. And I think this was a big - a huge error that he made.

OTIS: Not that long ago, Guaido's star was rising. Amid allegations that Maduro had rigged his 2018 reelection, Guaido, who was then head of Venezuela's Congress, claimed he was the country's legitimate president. His so-called interim government was quickly recognized by the U.S. and about 50 other countries. But Guaido blundered by endorsing a failed military uprising and then promoting electoral boycotts that left the opposition irrelevant. Among those pushing for a change is Henrique Capriles.

HENRIQUE CAPRILES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: He's a former presidential candidate who, in stark contrast to Guaido, has been urging the opposition to embrace electoral politics, even if conditions are grossly unfair. He pointed out that opposition candidates actually won the majority of votes on Sunday with 54%.

CAPRILES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: But they lost many races due to mistakes, like running too many candidates.

CAPRILES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "That's why," he says, "we need to revamp the opposition all across Venezuela." Where such a shakeup would leave Juan Guaido is unclear. His term as opposition leader ends in January, and there's little enthusiasm to reappoint him. But if his opposition colleagues fail to do so, it would also mean the end of his interim government that captured the world's attention for defying Maduro.

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JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: At a news conference, Guaido compared Maduro to dictators, like Bashar al-Assad and the late Moammar al-Gadhafi.

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GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

OTIS: But he added, "we're still on our feet. And hard as it is, we're not going to abandon the people."

For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Caracas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.