CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Members of Venezuela's ruling socialist party selected candidates to compete in December's legislative elections that the opposition is favored to win amid a punishing economic crisis that is eroding support for President Nicolas Maduro.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said that more than 3 million party loyalists partook in Sunday's primary and that the vote count was double the number cast for opposition candidates in the 33 districts where it held primaries last month.
But the National Electoral Council didn't publish any turnout figures and opposition groups said abstention was high.
Among the 110 candidates chosen to represent the United Socialist Party in the legislative vote was a brother of the late President Hugo Chavez, several ex-cabinet members and a vocalist for hip-hop group "Dame pa' matala," a slang reference to smoking a marijuana cigarette.
A cadre of athletes, TV personalities and other minor celebrities also competed as Maduro's struggling party tries to woo young, uncommitted voters at a time when support for his administration is being eroded by widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation.
The United Socialist Party also mandated that half its candidates be under age 30 to match the demographics of Venezuela's 19 million voters.
The opposition is also courting the youth vote; a third of the candidates in its primaries were under age 40. If it should win control of Congress, the opposition would likely push for a referendum to cut short Maduro's presidency before his term ends in 2019.
Chosen in eastern Monagas state was retired Gen. Hugo Carvajal, a former intelligence chief who was arrested briefly last year in Aruba on a U.S. drug warrant.
Eugenio Martinez, an expert on Venezuela's electoral system who writes for El Universal newspaper, said that some 2.5 million turned out for the 2010 socialist primaries translating into 5.4 million votes for government candidates in legislative elections later that year.
The socialists in 2010 failed to secure a majority of the popular vote but still carried almost 60 percent of the National Assembly's 165 seats thanks to Venezuela's complicated electoral math in which sparsely-populated rural areas where the opposition's reach is limited are overrepresented.
Voting hours were extended twice, with polls eventually closing after 9 p.m. local time, to accommodate what the PSUV said was a last minute surge.