ON THE face of things, Venezuelans were simply voting for their mayors and local councillors on December 8th. But the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, had called for a massive protest vote that he hoped would turn into a plebiscite on the erratic, economically incompetent and increasingly totalitarian rule of President Nicolás Maduro (pictured), the successor to the late Hugo Chávez. By that standard, Mr Capriles failed.
The opposition coalition, called the Democratic Unity alliance (MUD), made gains, especially in urban areas. The four biggest cities, including Caracas, now have opposition mayors. In all, the MUD won nine of the 23 state capitals. The most painful loss for the ruling Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was Barinas, home of the Chávez family. But outside the main cities, the electoral map remains chavista red, a reflection of the government’s stranglehold on rural Venezuela, which has most of the 337 mayoralties.