Nicolas Maduro. Photograph:( Others )
Maduro asked Congress to grant him special powers for a year, which he used to institute greater state control over institutions including economic measures and price controls
Despite Venezuelans suffering through the world's highest inflation rate and a devastating economic and political crisis that has triggered a massive refugee crisis, President Nicolas Maduro is expected to win re-election in the controversial presidential vote on Sunday (May 20).
There is widespread discontent with the burly and mustachioed Maduro who lacks the magnetism of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, for whom many still proclaim a near-religious devotion. Chavez, who died in March 2013, named Maduro, his-then vice president, as his successor.
Two months later, the former bus driver was elected by a margin of less than 2% over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who along with Leopoldo Lopez and other major rivals, is barred from running during this election.
The price of oil plummeted in 2014, challenging the new administration of the OPEC nation that soon had annual inflation of over 50%.
Maduro asked Congress to grant him special powers for a year, which he used to institute greater state control over institutions including economic measures and price controls. He has extended his rule by decree throughout the majority of his presidency.
Despite the rocky start, Venezuelans voted in socialist allies in local elections in November 2013, chiefly because of the enduring loyalty many of the country's poor feel toward Chavez. Chavez's 1999-2013 government was, for much of country's poor majority, the first administration that had their interests at heart after decades of elites alternating power.
Widespread discontent, rising crime and a sinking economy that included food and medicine shortages led to protests in February of 2014, in which dozens were killed.
The opposition won control of the National Assembly in December 2015 and became a leading voice in dissent against the government.
In July of 2017, Maduro installed a new Constituent Assembly in which all candidates belonged to the Socialist Party. The controversial assembly has ushered in pro-Maduro votes, in efforts to counteract the National Assembly.
Talks between the opposition and Maduro's administration have failed and protests have weakened as many opposition figures have fled the country.
Refugees have flooded South America and Spain but Maduro has continued to build on his base of one-fifth of the population that identifies as the bedrock of "Chavismo" as he runs his campaign.
Critics say a government-provided food-box or rations and occasional bonuses keep needy Venezuelans dependent on the state, and fearful of voting against the hand that feeds them, but the opposition is torn by internal rivalries.
But despite approval levels that hover around 20-25 percent in the last few years, 55-year-old Maduro is expected to usher in a win, defying U.S. and EU criticism and bringing the nation closer to allies like China and Russia.