Published by Reuters
The stinging defeat for President Nicolas Maduro's candidates in Sunday's legislative election has proven Venezuela's democratic credentials, belying warnings from the opposition that it might not be fair, a senior government representative said on Monday.
Voters punished the ruling Socialists over the OPEC nation's severe economic and social crisis, handing the opposition control of the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years.
"Venezuela is a great democracy. I went to vote and I'm very impressed. Nobody can question the system itself," said Maximilien Arvelaiz, who is Venezuela's top diplomat in Washington and has been proposed as ambassador.
"Democracy has prevailed. Let's say the result had been the other way - what would people have said? That's the irony," he added in an interview at a Caracas hotel, with one finger still purple from the indelible ink used to prevent multiple voting.
In the run-up to Sunday's vote, Venezuela's opposition had accused the government of tilting the electoral playing-field through irregular use of state resources, harassment and jailing of opponents, and manipulation of electoral districts.
But in the end, the Democratic Unity coalition won comfortably and Maduro quickly acknowledged the results, calming fears of protests or violence.
"Since 1998, we've had 20 elections and each time we won, they said there was fraud," said Arvelaiz, 42, referring to the stream of national elections and plebiscites since Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez won power.
"It's a double standard. Democracy prevails when the right wins. When it's us, (they say) 'Maduro controls everything.'"
'TURBULENCE' IN U.S. TIES
Although opponents have lambasted Maduro for persisting with dysfunctional economic controls, Arvelaiz said global economic woes and the slump in the price of crude oil - Venezuela's main export - had dealt the president a harsh hand.
Venezuelans are suffering a brutal recession, the highest inflation rate in the world and shortages of everything from milk to medicines, leading to long supermarket queues.
"Maduro is not responsible for the oil prices ... When you see the world right now, there's not a single region that can say it's doing very well with the economic situation," said Arvelaiz, repeating the government's complaint of economic "sabotage" by hostile businessmen and politicians.
Nevertheless, the government will reflect long and hard on Sunday's vote and make changes where necessary, he said.
"Maduro is a very pragmatic person. I'm sure Maduro will do what he has to do, making sure whatever happens will not affect the social gains of the people here," added the French-born Arvelaiz, who was a senior aide to Chavez and has also served as ambassador to Brazil.
Since Chavez won power, Venezuela has had a tumultuous and often acrimonious relationship with the United States. The two nations have not had ambassadors at their respective embassies since 2010.
A recent rapprochement stalled over Venezuela's jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez whose case Washington had championed. But the Venezuelan diplomat said channels of communication were still open - though bumpy.
"Sometimes I feel I'm in a plane and every five minutes I need to put my seatbelt on because of the turbulence."
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry)