CARACAS, Venezuela — Inauguration Day didn’t go well for the man picked to lead Venezuela’s socialist revolution for the next six years.
Hours before his swearing-in, fellow South American leaders pushed President Nicolás Maduro into a concession allowing a full audit of the razor-thin vote that the opposition says he won by fraud. Then the massive crowds that used to pack the streets for late leader Hugo Chávez failed to appear.
Finally, a spectator rushed the stage and interrupted Maduro’s inaugural speech, shouting into the microphone before he was tackled by security.
It was an inauspicious start to the first full term for the burly former bus driver laboring in Chávez’s shadow and struggling to inspire the fervor that surrounded the former lieutenant colonel during his 14 years in power. Maduro, who has the support of the Chávista bases, needs all the momentum he can muster to consolidate control of a country struggling with shortages of food and medicines; chronic power outages; and one of the world’s highest homicide and kidnapping rates.
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Venezuelan government officials appeared confident there will be no reversal of the result by an audit that’s scheduled to begin next week and could last well into May. Many independent analysts agreed. Still, the announcement of the audit by the government-controlled National Electoral Council was a startling reversal for a government that had insisted there would be no review of Sunday’s vote.
The decision late Thursday came moments before the official start of an emergency meeting of the union of South American leaders, Unasur, to discuss Venezuela’s electoral crisis. The leaders wound up endorsing Maduro’s victory after their meeting in Lima, Peru, likely in exchange for his concession to the audit.
“Unasur applied a lot of pressure on Venezuela to accept a recount,” said Alexandre Barros, an analyst with the Early Warning political-risk group in Brasília, Brazil.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said the audit will prove he won the presidency. The recount, even if it leaves the vote standing and calms tensions, will strengthen the opposition against a president whose narrow victory left him far weaker than Chávez ever was, analysts said.
“The regime has no intention of modifying the existing situation,” said Vicente Torrijos, a political scientist at Colombia’s Universidad del Rosario, suggesting it won’t let the audit force them from office. Still, he said, “I think this is a weak government, incredibly fragile, and it’s an unsustainable regime.”
Maduro, 50, was declared the winner of Sunday’s election by a slim 267,000-vote margin out of 14.9 million ballots cast. That did not include more than 100,000 votes cast abroad, where more than 90 percent were cast for Capriles in an earlier election against Chávez last October.