The Obama administration on Monday declined to recognize Hugo Chávez’s successor in Venezuela, instead calling for a recount of this weekend’s close presidential election.
“We congratulate the Venezuelan people for their peaceful and orderly participation in this electoral process,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Nicolas Maduro, the hand-picked successor to former President Chávez, who died last month, beat out challenger Henrique Capriles by 1.6 percentage points, according to the official tally. The close race prompted Capriles to demand a recount, something Maduro said he'd support. But Venezuelan authorities have said they intend to declare Maduro the winner and certify results as soon as Monday.
“In our view, rushing to a decision in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the expectations of Venezuelans for a clear and democratic outcome,” Carney added.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell used identical language during his press briefing.
“In order to meet all Venezuelans' democratic expectations,” he said, “it makes sense that such a recount should be completed before any additional steps, including official certification of the results, occurs.”
Ventrell declined to address reports of irregularities and voter fraud, saying the United States did not have election monitors. He also declined to say what would happen if election officials don't allow the full recount.
“We want the recount to happen,” he said. “If it doesn't, then we'll address it at that time. We're not there yet.”
Capriles told his supporters that he'd heard complaints of multiple irregularities.
“We are not going to recognize a result until each vote of Venezuelans is counted,” Capriles said, according to The Associated Press. “This struggle has not ended.”
Maduro, who said he'd welcome the move, is largely seen as having been weakened by the vote, which was much closer than Chávez's 9-point win over Capriles in October.
“Let 100 percent of the ballot boxes be opened,” he said. “We're going to do it; we have no fear."
GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), a staunch critic of Venezuela’s government, urged the administration to stand firm in refusing to recognize the results unless a recount is conducted.
“The fact that the opposition will not recognize the election results illustrates that the Venezuelan people were not allowed to vote in a free, fair, and transparent election,” she said in a statement.
“Nicolas Maduro has continued the authoritarian policies of Hugo Chavez by denying access to credible international election observers, controlling the electoral council and judicial system, and influencing the biased media outlets.”