Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has claimed a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections that were boycotted by the opposition.
With more than 82 per cent of the votes counted, Maduro and his Socialist allies won just more than 67 per cent, according to the Venezuelan broadcaster Telesur.
Opposition parties received nearly 32 per cent.
A win for Maduro’s Socialist Party would place the country’s only opposition-controlled government institution into his hands.
The main opposition parties boycotted the elections, headed by opposition leader and parliamentary speaker Juan Guaido who entered a power struggle with Maduro in January 2019.
Dozens of countries recognise him as Venezuela’s interim president.
“The dictatorship does not want to conduct an election, but destroy the hopes of a country,” Guaido wrote on Twitter.
“The election is a fraud by the dictatorship led by Nicolas Maduro and will make the crisis in our country only worse,” wrote Julio Borges, the foreign minister of Guaido’s counter-government on Twitter.
Telesur put the voter turnout at around 31 per cent.
More than 20 million people were eligible to elect 277 members of the National Assembly, an increase of 110 lawmakers compared to the outgoing parliament.
Maduro, who won a second term in 2018 elections widely criticised as undemocratic, has presided over an economic meltdown – including hyperinflation, acute goods shortages and a plunge in oil production – which has driven about 5 million Venezuelans to flee abroad.
He has also cracked down on the opposition, with UN investigators accusing the government of grave human rights violations, including thousands of killings by security forces.
The EU refused to send observers to monitor the vote, which the U.S. and the Organisation of American States also criticised as lacking democratic guarantees.
Maduro earlier called on the international community to accept the election results.
“We respect the right of self-determination of peoples. We demand respect for the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people,’’ he wrote on Twitter.
Canada said on Sunday it would not accept the election results, as did Colombia.
Guaido is seen as weakened after his confrontational strategy against Maduro failed to oust the president.
He is now also expected to lose control of the National Assembly.
More moderate opposition parties are participating in the elections amid uncertainty about the extent to which they could challenge the government in parliament and replace the Guaido camp as the country’s main opposition.
Guaido’s future will partly depend on whether the U.S. changes its policy on Venezuela after president-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The National Assembly had previously been sidelined by the pro-government Constituent Assembly, which Maduro created in 2017 and whose term is due to expire in December.
The elections took place amid safety measures after the authorities confirmed more than 100,000 coronavirus infections.