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Venezuelan Mayoral Votes Show No Big Power Shift By WILLIAM NEUMAN

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 10.49.27 AM December 8, 2013

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelans went to the polls on Sunday to elect hundreds of mayors around the country in a vote seen as an early test of the fledgling president, Nicolás Maduro, and his ability to carry the country further along the socialist path laid out by his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez.

“It’s like a thermometer, to see if the government is doing good or bad,” said José de Corral, 60, a schoolteacher who backs the government. He had just come from voting, as shown by the purple ink on his pinkie finger, applied at the polling station as part of a system to keep people from voting more than once. In a country deeply divided between government supporters and opponents, Mr. de Corral said the election would “show who is stronger.”

But the results did not show a major shift in the country’s political alignment. Opposition leaders had hoped to win a majority of the total votes cast in mayoral races nationwide, but the head of the national electoral commission, Tibisay Lucena, announced that with more than 97 percent of votes transmitted, Mr. Maduro’s United Socialist Party had received 44 percent, compared with 41 percent for the main opposition coalition. Other parties, including some allied with the government, received the remainder.

The government party retained control of the largest municipality in Caracas, the capital, while the opposition held on to what is known as the metropolitan mayoralty there, as well as the mayoralty of Maracaibo, the second largest city in Venezuela. The opposition did gain some ground, winning races in Valencia and Barquisimeto, which had been held by the ruling party.

Nine months after Mr. Chávez’s death, a struggling economy presented the biggest challenge for the ruling party.

Inflation is 54 percent a year, growth is sputtering and government restrictions on hard currency have throttled back imports. Many basic products, like toilet paper and corn flour, are in short supply, and when they do show up, consumers often have to wait in long lines to buy them.

Other chronic problems include electrical failures, such as one just days before the election that knocked out power to Caracas, the capital, and much of the western half of the country.

Mr. Maduro had appeared weak after narrowly winning an election to replace Mr. Chávez in April, and he stumbled often in his first months in office. But he seemed to gain confidence in recent weeks, in particular with a forceful campaign to make retailers lower the prices they charge for a wide array of goods, including appliances, televisions, car parts and toys.

Mr. Maduro claims that the country’s problems are caused by enemies’ waging an “economic war” against his government, and the electrical failures by sabotage.

“The people have told the world that the revolution continues,” he said late Sunday.

Ms. Lucena said the ruling party had kept control of a majority of the country’s 337 mayoralties. But the opposition made gains in some key cities, like the capital of Barinas, Mr. Chávez’s home state and a bastion of government support. Voters also cast ballots for thousands of local legislators.

Caracas has six mayors: one in each of the city’s five municipalities and a general metropolitan mayor. The opposition had held five of the six posts.

Opposition leaders cast the election as a referendum on Mr. Maduro’s government but were frustrated in their hope to win a majority of votes nationwide.

Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader who ran against Mr. Maduro in April, had traveled around the country to campaign for local candidates, and to some degree, the outcome of the election could be seen as a test of his leadership and his ability to extend his personal popularity to the rest of the opposition.

The election was characterized by the widespread use of government resources in favor of the ruling party’s candidates. In the Caracas subway system, for example, giant posters supported the mayoral candidacy of the United Socialist Party incumbent in the city’s largest municipality, Libertador. Government-operated television stations continually promoted Socialist candidates and vilified the opposition.

María Eugenia Díaz contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on December 9, 2013, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Venezuelan Mayoral Votes Show No Big Power Shift.