Venezue­lan elec­tion faulted

Vot­ing ma­chine firm says the gov­ern­ment’s voter turnout fig­ure was in­flated.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Mery Mo­gol­lon and Chris Kraul Special cor­re­spon­dents Mo­gol­lon and Kraul re­ported from Caracas and Bo­gota, Colom­bia, re­spec­tively.

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Bri­tish com­pany that pro­vided vot­ing ma­chines used in Venezuela’s elec­tion this week said Wed­nes­day that the bal­lot­ing was “tam­pered with” and that the com­pany could not en­dorse the re­sults.

“We es­ti­mate the dif­fer­ence between the ac­tual par­tic­i­pa­tion and the one an­nounced by au­thor­i­ties is at least 1 mil­lion votes,” said An­to­nio Mug­ica, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Smart­matic.

Mug­ica did not specif­i­cally ac­cuse the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro of fi­nagling the vote count, but said at a Lon­don news con­fer­ence that Sun­day’s elec­toral re­sults are the first it has re­pu­di­ated since 2004 when it be­gan sup­ply­ing vot­ing ma­chines to Venezuela.

He de­clined to pro­vide spe­cific fig­ures, say­ing the tally was still un­der re­view. He added that the fact that the op­po­si­tion did not send mon­i­tors to polling places to check vote counts fa­cil­i­tated the ma­nip­u­la­tion of re­sults.

Smart­matic’s dis­clo­sure bol­stered the claims of some ob­servers who said Sun­day that exit polling in­di­cated that the gov­ern­ment’s turnout fig­ures were in­flated.

The Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day de­nied any im­pli­ca­tion of bal­lot ma­nip­u­la­tion, crit­i­cized Smart­matic’s com­ments as “ir­re­spon­si­ble” and threat­ened le­gal action against the com­pany.

“The worst is that Smart­matic par­tic­i­pated in all the au­dits,” the coun­cil said in a state­ment. “What­ever ma­nip­u­la­tion such as that in­di­cated by Mug­ica would ig­nore the fact that Smart­matic is part of the se­cu­rity of the tal­ly­ing sys­tem.”

The coun­cil said late Sun­day that 8.1 mil­lion vot­ers, or 41.5% of those el­i­gi­ble, turned out to select 537 mem­bers of a new assem­bly charged with writ­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion.

The turnout fig­ure as stated by the gov­ern­ment was sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it ex­ceeded the 7.6 mil­lion bal­lots cast by op­po­si­tion vot­ers on July 16 in a protest vote to ex­press re­jec­tion of the assem­bly. By ap­par­ently win­ning the turnout con­test, Maduro gov­ern­ment could thus claim greater pub­lic ap­proval.

Lead­ers of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly say the new con­sti­tu­tion is a ma­neu­ver by Maduro to side­line the demo­crat­i­cally elected congress and per­pet­u­ate him­self in power. Sev­eral in­ter­na­tional lead­ers and hu­man rights groups also have crit­i­cized the new con­sti­tu­tion as a pre­lude to dic­ta­tor­ship.

This week, the United States an­nounced it was levy­ing sanc­tions on Maduro by freezing any U.S. assets he has, a mea­sure im­posed on 13 other mem­bers of his gov­ern­ment last week. Wash­ing­ton is also said to be con­sid­er­ing restrict­ing im­ports of crude oil from Venezuela, among the top U.S. sup­pli­ers.

Op­po­si­tion law­maker Julio Borges, who is pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Assem­bly, told re­porters Wed­nes­day that the Sun­day vote was a fraud and that he and other lead­ers would reg­is­ter com­plaints with the na­tion’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, who func­tions as a pub­lic ad­vo­cate.

“The assem­bly elec­tion was not only a fraud in be­ing called in the first place, but all the re­sults given by the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil were fraud­u­lent,” Borges said.

The con­tro­versy arose shortly be­fore the 537 assem­bly mem­bers were to be sworn in at an arena in south Caracas on Wed­nes­day after­noon. The body is to com­mence its work draft­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion on Thursday at the Fed­eral Leg­isla­tive Palace, home to the Na­tional Assem­bly.

But ma­jor­ity mem­bers of the Na­tional Assem­bly led by Borges in­sist that they are the le­git­i­mate leg­is­la­tors and that they will take their seats at the palace as they nor­mally do.

Venezuela has been in the throes of na­tion­wide protests since late March, with cit­i­zens demon­strat­ing against food short­ages, gal­lop­ing in­fla­tion and Maduro’s au­to­cratic gov­ern­ment. Clashes with au­thor­i­ties have left 120 dead and thou­sands in­jured.

Mean­while, fis­sures among Maduro sup­port­ers were ap­par­ent late Tues­day when three law­mak­ers an­nounced they were aban­don­ing the pres­i­dent’s United So­cial­ist Party of Venezuela to form a dis­si­dent bloc in congress.

“We have de­cided to form the So­cial­ist Par­lia­men­tary Bloc, in­spired by the ne­ces­sity to con­trib­ute so­lu­tions re­quired by the coun­try’s great prob­lems,” As­sem­bly­man Eus­to­quio Con­tr­eras said. He was joined by Ivonne Tellez and Ger­man Fer­rer, who is the hus­band of Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz, also a Maduro critic.

Nik­las Halle’n AFP/Getty Im­ages

AN­TO­NIO MUG­ICA of the vot­ing ma­chine provider Smart­matic re­pu­di­ated Venezuela’s elec­toral re­sults.

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