Venezuelans have begun heading to the polls in an election boycotted by the opposition but expected to hand deeply unpopular President Nicolas Maduro a new mandate.
Maduro, the political heir to the late leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez, has presided over an implosion of once wealthy oil producer Venezuela’s economy since taking office in 2013.
Hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, rising crime and broken water, power and transportation networks have sparked growing discontent and violent unrest among Venezuelans.
However, the 55-year-old former bus driver is favourite to win ahead of his main rival Henri Falcon, a former army officer and state governor who has failed to gain the endorsement of the main opposition leaders, and an evangelical candidate, Javier Bertucci.
Maduro, with a tight grip on the electoral and military authorities, faces a bitterly divided opposition that has called for a boycott.
“Low enthusiasm will likely reduce voter turnout and enable Maduro to control the outcome without major social backlash,” said analyst Risa Grais-Targow of Eurasia Group.