Official alleges fraud in election tallies
Venezuela’s attorney general wants to halt the seating of a new National Assembly.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s attorney general on Thursday sought a court order to halt the installation of a new National Assembly because of the suspected commission of crimes during last weekend’s vote to elect delegates.
Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz, a critic of socialist President Nicolas Maduro, said she had opened an investigation into alleged voter fraud in connection with the controversial balloting. Ortega, who had filed complaints with the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of a new assembly, filed Thursday’s request in a lower court.
The election came amid a rising toll of deaths and arrests tied to four months of violent clashes between antigovernment protesters and authorities. The new assembly is expected to rewrite the nation’s constitution, which leaders of the opposition-controlled National Assembly say is a way for Maduro to skirt the democratic process.
Maduro, who met with delegates Wednesday, said the newly elected assembly would hold its first meeting Friday instead of Thursday.
He said he stood by the vote, which was boycotted by the opposition, despite the British company that provided voting machines saying the ballot was tampered with and the company could not endorse the results.
The National Electoral Council denied any implication of ballot manipulation.
Ortega said in a CNN interview that an investigation of the voting is important because a new constitution is illegal to begin with and because of its long-term effect on Venezuelans.
“This [allegation] is too serious and we have to determine who is responsible,” Ortega said, adding that she would soon question members of the electoral council about alleged fraud in the vote tally. “This is another facet of an illegal process, the constitutional assembly.”
Pushed by Maduro as necessary to bring order to Venezuela, the new charter has been criticized as opening the door to dictatorship. On Sunday, voters elected 537 members of a new constitutional assembly who will convene Friday to begin drafting a document.
The delegates, all of whom were candidates put forth by Maduro, are expected to replace the democratically elected and opposition-controlled National Assembly and hand additional powers to Maduro.
Ortega has declared the constitutional assembly to be illegal because the president failed to ask voters to first authorize it by approving it in a nationwide referendum as called for in the 1999 constitution.
“The country is headed toward dictatorship. If we continue without agreement, we will lose all traces of democracy,” Ortega said.
In a televised speech Wednesday night, Maduro denied the allegations, saying Antonio Mugica, chief executive of the votingmachine company, Smartmatic, was trying to “stain the electoral process.”
“They call me a dictator. I am not a dictator,” Maduro said.