Image caption, Presdident Maduro said the result was “a good triumph, a good victory, a good harvest”

Venezuela’s ruling party has won 20 out of 23 state governorships in Sunday’s regional elections, the first in four years in which the main opposition parties took part.

Opposition candidates only won three governor’s posts.

In a move which reflected the predictable outcome, the Cuban president congratulated his Venezuelan counterpart before the electoral authorities had announced the results.

Turnout was low at 41.8%.

That is one of the lowest rates in the past 20 years.

The election was the first in nearly four years which was not boycotted by Venezuela’s main opposition parties.

In previous elections, these parties had told their voters to refrain from casting their ballots arguing that it was not a fair contest.

The election which saw Nicolás Maduro re-elected as president in 2018 was marred by vote-rigging claims and more than 50 countries refused to recognise him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

But with Mr Maduro still in the presidential palace and the European Union sending electoral observers, the main opposition parties decided to change strategy and take part in Sunday’s polls.

However, many opposition voters questioned this move, arguing that the Socialist party – which has been in power for the past 22 years – has developed such a tight grip over the electoral authorities and other institutions that free elections are not possible.

Image caption, The European Union sent an observation mission to the election

Preliminary results suggest the opposition did not manage to dispel the distrust many Venezuelans had in the voting process.

The opposition only won in the states of Zulia, Nueva Esparta and Cojedes, while government-allied candidates swept to power in the remaining 20, according to preliminary results.

And while a government victory was widely anticipated in most states, many Venezuelans commented on a tweet by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who congratulated his ally, Mr Maduro, on the “convincing victory” even before Venezuela’s electoral authorities had announced the first results.

Analysts said apathy also contributed the low turnout with many voters worn down by Venezuela’s deep economic crisis.

Three out of four Venezuelans are living in extreme poverty, according to a national survey.

Government-critical media reported that some voters had been intimidated by members of violent pro-government gangs, but the National Electoral Council said that there had only been “small and isolated problems”.

The European Union electoral observer mission is due to present its report on the election on Tuesday.