Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro won an overwhelming majority in Sunday’s elections, the National Electoral Council (CNE) said.
Maduro took 68 per cent of the vote, while his challenger Henri Falcon gained just 21 per cent.
“Peace and democracy have won,” Maduro said.
Before the results were announced, Falcon said he would not recognize the results of a poll fraught with irregularities.
“We do not recognize this electoral process and regard it as illegitimate,” the opposition candidate said at a press conference, calling for fresh elections.
“I hope that beyond the initial confusion that any candidate will feel… they will recognize the results sooner or later,” Maduro said.
Falcon had earlier Sunday said he had received hundreds of complaints about ruling party employees scanning voters’ identity documents near and even inside polling stations, implicitly or explicitly promising them benefits if they voted for Maduro.
Some of Falcon’s election observers were barred from entering polling stations and one of them was beaten by soldiers, the candidate said.
CNE President Tibisay Lucena put voter turnout at 46 per cent.
But the opposition alliance Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which boycotted the elections, said less than 30 per cent of the 20.5 million eligible voters went to the polls.
“Maduro has been overwhelmingly defeated by citizens who did not accept blackmail, pressure or intimidation,” said Victor Marquez from the Ample Front movement that MUD belongs to.
The closure of polling stations was also delayed, sparking further suspicion of vote rigging on behalf of Maduro.
Lucena said there had only been occasional complaints of irregularities. Maduro told journalists that CNE was able to control such incidents, which would not affect the elections.
Few voters turned up at most polling stations visited by dpa in Caracas.
“I don’t vote, because I don’t trust CNE,” said Janet Borges, 47, who lives in the wealthy Chacao neighbourhood. “There will be fraud.”
One of the first to vote was Maduro, who pledged to form “a government of reconciliation” and to launch a dialogue with the opposition if he wins a second six-year term.
The political heir of late socialist president Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) faced three candidates. Former Lara state governor Falcon was deemed to be the only one with a slight chance of winning. The other two, former evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci and Chavist dissident Reinaldo Quijada, are little-known.
MUD had dismissed the elections as a “farce” only aimed at legitimizing Maduro’s much-criticized rule.
The oil-producing country is mired in a deep recession, while a quintuple-digit annual inflation has contributed to widespread shortages of food and medicines, prompting hundreds of thousands of people to cross into neighbouring countries.
“I came to vote because I want that man to go. We can’t go on like this,” said domestic worker Maria Justo, 65, who voted in Petare slum.
“I came to vote because I want to save the country. Nobody is investing here. Venezuelans are leaving. I voted for Falcon,” said water utility employee Bernardino Gonzalez, 45, who was voting at the same polling station.
Tomas Paiva, a 58-year-old physician, said he also voted for Falcon in the hope of a “transition process,” because “the people want a solution.”
But Maduro also has supporters who associate him with the charismatic Chavez.
“I voted for President Nicolas Maduro… because he had… a mission that Chavez gave him,” said Fernando Carvajal, 61.
The shopkeeper, who was voting in the traditionally Chavist 23 de Enero neighbourhood, blamed Venezuela’s economic crisis on “the international far-right.”
“The people are suffering hunger, but they remain loyal” to Maduro, Carvajal added.
The elections were called by the Constituent Assembly, an organ Maduro created that his critics see as an attempt to sideline the opposition-dominated National Assembly.
The United States, 14 Latin American countries and the European Union have denounced the elections as lacking democratic guarantees.
Hundreds of people demonstrated against the elections in the Spanish capital Madrid, displaying slogans such as “SOS Venezuela,” “Maduro fraud” and “No more dictatorship in Venezuela.” Protests were also staged in Mexico City, Bogota and Santiago de Chile.
Falcon had proposed substituting Venezuela’s almost worthless currency, the bolivar, with the US dollar to stem hyperinflation, which the International Monetary Fund expects to reach 13,000 per cent this year.
The economy of the oil-producing country will contract by 15 per cent in 2018, according to IMF.
In addition to electing a president, Venezuelans also voted for members of state and municipal legislative councils.