by Victoria Arguello
CARACAS, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- Venezuelans will vote on Sunday in municipal elections amidst a prolonged electoral crisis, forcing the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to work hard to maintain its popularity.
The elections will choose 335 mayors within a wide range of candidates and the ruling party is expected to see a big victory due to the recent split of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), said political analysts.
Four years ago, the Great Patriotic Pole coalition, in which the PSUV is a member, won 256 mayoral seats against 81 for the opposition. And this balance seems unlikely to change.
At least five of the larger opposition parties that could face the PSUV have ruled out participation, while smaller ones are divided.
"Chavismo is practically going without opposition, the small opposition parties which will participate do not have a strong political apparatus. This means Chavismo will remain an important force in Venezuela," said Emiro Romero, an electoral expert, referring to the movement founded by former leader Hugo Chavez.
Romero believes that the opposition may now focus on building a new "union" for presidential elections in 2018, when President Nicolas Maduro will run for reelection.
"The MUD opposition ... are playing for a presidential election or seeking a referendum to invalidate regional and local elections," said Romero, director of the Buro Consulting polling company.
Also on Sunday, the western state of Zulia will re-elect its governor after MUD governor-elect Juan Pablo Guanipa was barred from office after he refused to take the oath at the National Constituent Assembly (ANC).
Guanipa's refusal to take the oath became the catalyst for the fracturing of the MUD, since its four other governors-elect accepted the oath.
The current panorama gives the PSUV the lead in the state of Zulia, an important border state with Colombia that has historically favored the opposition.
"Zulia has an important population. Maracaibo (capital of Zulia) has always been an opposition stronghold, but today, the opposition is deeply polarized and Chavismo could win there," added Romero.
Sociologist Maryclein Stelling told Xinhua that this scenario of divisions and personal interests give the Maduro government a chance to seize votes from the opposition, or face a high level of abstention.