According to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, the governing United Socialist Party (USP) has won the greatest share of the vote in Sunday’s local elections.
With most votes counted, the USP has 49% while the opposition has about 43%.
The opposition was ahead in most of the larger cities, including the capital, Caracas, while the governing party won in rural areas.
The elections have been seen as a key test for President Nicolas Maduro, who replaced the late Hugo Chavez in April.
Since November, Nicolas Maduro has been ruling by decree, promising to tackle corruption and control price rises.
The opposition accuses Nicolas Maduro of failing to deal with crime, inflation and a shortage of basic goods.
Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party has won the greatest share of the vote in Venezuela’s local elections
Local elections in Venezuela are usually low key, but this one was filled with expectations for the government and the opposition.
Voters were electing mayors to 337 municipalities and officials to more than 2,000 city councils.
The opposition won mayoral races in the capital, Caracas, and the country’s second city. Maracaibo. They also won the capital of Barinas, from where former Hugo Chavez hailed.
So far, the USP has won in 196 of the municipalities being contested, while the opposition took 53, and independents another eight. The remainder have yet to be declared.
Nicolas Maduro called the results a “grand victory”, telling supporters at a rally in Caracas that “the Bolivarian Revolution continues now with more strength”.
The opposition’s failure to win a majority of the votes cast or significantly increase the number of municipalities under its control from the 46 won in the 2008 local elections was a disappointment to its leader Henrique Capriles.
Sunday’s elections coincided with the anniversary of Hugo Chavez’s famous speech in which he announced that his cancer had returned and named Nicolas Maduro as his preferred successor.
Henrique Capriles – Venezuela’s opposition leader – has told a crowd of supporters not to feel intimidated and to vote in upcoming local elections.
Speaking in the capital, Caracas, Henrique Capriles said not voting on December 8 could be “very costly”.
Henrique Capriles was speaking as thousands turned out for a day of protest.
On Wednesday, the National Assembly gave President Nicolas Maduro controversial new powers to rule by decree.
Nicolas Maduro says the powers will enable him to fight corruption and fix the economy.
The National Assembly’s measure allows Nicolas Maduro to govern without consulting parliament for 12 months.
Despite being a big oil producer, Venezuela is facing shortages of food and other essential goods, as well as power cuts and 54% inflation.
Henrique Capriles has told a crowd of supporters not to feel intimidated and to vote in upcoming local elections
Nicolas Maduro has already forced retailers to slash prices by up to 60%, as part of his fight against what he calls “economic sabotage”.
The government has also imposed strict controls over the sale of foreign currency, to combat a growing black market in dollars.
The opposition accuses Nicolas Maduro of planning to use his new powers to suppress its activities.
Local elections will take place in two weeks.
“Everybody has to overcome their fears and vote. Voting doesn’t cost a thing, but not doing it can be very costly,” Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Nicolas Maduro in April’s presidential election, told the crowd on Saturday.
Henrique Capriles said two of his aides were detained without explanation on Thursday night.
He accused Nicolas Maduro of being too cowardly to arrest him, relying instead on detaining people around him.
“Why don’t they come for me? Maduro, don’t be a coward, come on,” Henrique Capriles told supporters.
One of those arrested was man in charge of organizing Henrique Capriles’ travel agenda, Alejandro Silva.
The government confirmed two members of the opposition had been arrested, accused of planning to provoke disturbances during Saturday’s protests.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has asked parliament to give him special powers to fight corruption and what he called economic sabotage.
Venezuela is currently facing shortages of food and essential goods, power cuts and soaring inflation.
The measure, used on four occasions by his predecessor Hugo Chavez, would allow Nicolas Maduro to govern by decree for a set period of time.
The opposition fears he will use his powers to stifle any dissent.
A vote to implement the so-called Enabling Law is due to be held in the National Assembly next week.
President Nicolas Maduro has asked parliament to give him special powers to fight corruption and what he called economic sabotage
In a three-hour speech to the assembly, Nicolas Maduro called it a “matter of life or death” for the country’s socialist revolution.
“If corruption keeps expanding and perpetuating its destructive capitalist logic, there will be no socialism here,” he said.
Nicolas Maduro vowed to root out corruption in all aspects of Venezuelan life, stressing that even members of the governing Unified Socialist Party would not be exempt from scrutiny.
Henrique Capriles, the opposition presidential candidate who narrowly lost the election to Nicolas Maduro earlier this year, said the decree would not solve the country’s problems.
“I don’t think this law will bring any economic or social benefit to Venezuelans,” he said.
“They’re going to use the law to persecute and distract the people from their real problems.”
Although Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, its people are suffering from the highest inflation in Latin America, sluggish growth and shortages.
A power cut last month left more than two-thirds of the country without electricity.
Finance Minister Nelson Merentes has conceded that while the social-oriented policies of Hugo Chavez have improved the living standards of many Venezuelans, they did not solve the “structural problems” of the economy.
Hugo Chavez died of cancer in March after 14 years in power.
His vice-president and handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, has pledged to continue his policies but does not command the same support enjoyed by Hugo Chavez.
Venezuela is expelling three US diplomats, whom it accuses of plotting to sabotage the economy.
President Nicolas Maduro said the diplomats have 48 hours to leave the country, adding: “Yankees, go home!”
Nicolas Maduro says he has evidence that the diplomats took part in a power-grid sabotage in September and had bribed Venezuelan companies to cut down production.
The US and Venezuela have been without ambassadors in each other’s capitals since 2010.
The diplomats expelled have been named as Kelly Keiderling – the charge d’affaires and the most senior US diplomat in Caracas – David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman.
“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations of US government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuela government,” the embassy said in a statement.
It said it had not yet been officially notified of the Venezuelan government decision to expel the three diplomats.
Nicolas Maduro says he has evidence that the US diplomats took part in a power-grid sabotage in September and had bribed Venezuelan companies to cut down production
Nicolas Maduro made the announcement during an official ceremony at the city of Santa Ana.
“Out of Venezuela! Yankees go home! Enough of abuse against the dignity of a peace-loving nation,” he said.
Venezuela is facing a shortage of several goods, including toilet paper, sugar and flour.
The opposition blames Nicolas Maduro’s left-wing policies and rhetoric for the crisis.
Relations between the two countries have been bad for over a decade.
For years, the late President Hugo Chavez denounced “American imperialism” in Latin America.
In December 2010, Hugo Chavez denied a visa to the man appointed to be US ambassador to Caracas, Larry Palmer, over remarks he had made about involvement between the Venezuelan government and Colombian FARC rebels.
“Anyone who comes here as an ambassador has to show respect. This is a country that must be respected,” Hugo Chavez said at the time.
The US retaliated and expelled the Venezuelan ambassador to Washington.
Nicolas Maduro took office as interim president when Hugo Chavez was terminally ill with cancer. He was elected president in April, by a narrow margin, defeating opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
Nicolas Maduro’s new Foreign Minister, Elias Jaua, met the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, during a regional summit in Guatemala in June.
They both said they were determined to improve relations, but the good will did not last long.
Last week, Nicolas Maduro cancelled his scheduled speech at the UN Assembly General, saying that his life would be in danger in New York.
Nicolas Maduro accused two former US officials of being behind the “provocations”.
“The US government knows exactly that these people were behind a dangerous activity being plotted in New York,” he said.