Venezuela pres­i­dent dis­putes vote tam­per­ing al­le­ga­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Venezuela’s pres­i­dent de­fi­antly dis­missed al­le­ga­tions that of­fi­cial turnout fig­ures for the elec­tion of an all-pow­er­ful con­stituent as­sem­bly were ma­nip­u­lated, ac­cus­ing the in­ter­na­tional soft­ware firm be­hind the claim of bow­ing to U.S. pres­sure to cast doubt over a body that he hopes will en­trench an even more staunchly so­cial­ist state.

In his first meet­ing with as­sem­bly del­e­gates Wed­nes­day night, Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro not only stood by the of­fi­cial count of 8 mil­lion-plus votes cast in Sun­day’s di­vi­sive elec­tion, but pro­claimed that an ad­di­tional 2 mil­lion peo­ple would have voted if they hadn’t been blocked by antigov­ern­ment pro­test­ers.

Maduro also announced a one-day de­lay in the as­sem­bly’s in­stal­la­tion, say­ing it would con­vene on Friday in­stead of Thurs­day as planned, in order to “or­ga­nize it well in peace and tran­quil­ity.’’

The body is em­pow­ered to re­write Venezuela’s con­sti­tu­tion and Maduro vows he will use it to tar­get his op­po­nents and so­lid­ify the so­cial­ist sys­tem in­stalled by the late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez. Maduro called the vote in May af­ter weeks of protests fu­eled by wide­spread anger over food short­ages, triple-digit in­fla­tion and high crime _ un­rest that con­tin­ues and has caused at least 125 deaths.

The head of vot­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pany Smart­matic said ear­lier Wed­nes­day that the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil’s voter turnout num­ber was off by at least 1 mil­lion, fur­ther dark­en­ing un­cer­tainty over the ve­rac­ity over the re­sults. In­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts and op­po­si­tion lead­ers have con­tended that the ac­tual par­tic­i­pa­tion level was much lower.

With the op­po­si­tion boy­cotting the elec­tion, vir­tu­ally all the can­di­dates were sup­port­ers

of Maduro’s rul­ing so­cial­ist party, so turnout was watched as one of the only in­di­ca­tors of how much pop­u­lar sup­port there is for the con­stituent as­sem­bly.

“That stupid guy, the pres­i­dent of Smart­matic, pres­sured to the neck by the grin­gos and the Brits, said there were 7.5 mil­lion,’’ Maduro said in tele­vised re­marks. “I think there were 10 mil­lion Venezue­lans who went out.’’

Maduro pro­vided no ev­i­dence to sup­port his claim, but his re­marks were re­ceived with re­sound­ing ap­plause from about 500 peo­ple elected to the as­sem­bly.

An­to­nio Mug­ica, CEO of Smart­matic, told re­porters in Lon­don that re­sults recorded by the com­pany’s sys­tems and those re­ported by the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil show “with­out any doubt’’ that the of­fi­cial turnout fig­ure was tam­pered with. But he did not spec­ify whether his com­pany’s fig­ures showed 1 mil­lion fewer, or 1 mil­lion more, vot­ers.

The in­ter­na­tional soft­ware com­pany has pro­vided vot­ing tech­nol­ogy in Venezuela since 2004.

“Even in mo­ments of deep

po­lit­i­cal con­flict and divi­sion we have been sat­is­fied with the vot­ing process and the count has been com­pletely ac­cu­rate’’ pre­vi­ously in Venezuela, Mug­ica said. “It is, there­fore, with the deep­est re­gret that we have to re­port that the turnout fig­ures on Sun­day, 30 July, for the con­stituent as­sem­bly in Venezuela were tam­pered with.’’

Tibisay Lu­cena, the head of the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil, also dis­missed Smart­matic’s claim. She called it an “opin­ion’’ of a com­pany that played only a sec­ondary role in the elec­tion and had no ac­cess to com­plete data.

“A com­pany lo­cated out­side the coun­try does not guar­an­tee the trans­parency and cred­i­bil­ity of the Venezue­lan elec­toral sys­tem,’’ Lu­cena said.

Even be­fore Smart­matic’s state­ment, there were grow­ing ques­tions about the of­fi­cial turnout count. Lead­ers of the op­po­si­tion, which is sup­ported by a size­able por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, ar­gued that the turnout num­ber was in­flated. And an in­de­pen­dent exit poll con­cluded that less than half the gov­ern­ment’s fig­ure ac­tu­ally cast bal­lots.

AP PHOTO

A poster that shows some of Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion lead­ers hold­ing a sign with a mes­sage that reads in Span­ish: “That con­stituent as­sem­bly will not pass” is dis­played on a wall near Al­tamira Square in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Thurs­day, Aug. 3, 2017. Venezuela’s Ni­co­las Maduro de­fi­antly dis­missed al­le­ga­tions that of­fi­cial turnout fig­ures for the elec­tion of an all-pow­er­ful con­stituent as­sem­bly were ma­nip­u­lated. Pic­tured in the poster are Hen­rique Capriles, left, Lil­ian Tin­tori, sec­ond left, Maria Co­rina Machado, sec­ond right, and Na­tional As­sem­bly Pres­i­dent Julio Borges, right.

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