Vote tampering charges rock Venezuela regime’s plans for assembly.
Maduro supporters push forward
CARACAS, VENEZUELA | The government and election officials found themselves on the defensive Wednesday following revelations that turnout figures had been manipulated in a crucial vote for an allpowerful constituent assembly in Venezuela, casting a dark shadow over socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s hopes to use the assembly to rewrite the constitution and cement his hold on power.
The official count of voters in Sunday’s election was off by at least 1 million, according to the head of the voting technology firm Smartmatic — a finding certain to sow further discord over a body that has been granted vast authority to override every branch of government.
Results re- corded by Smartmatic’s systems and those reported by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council show “without any doubt” that the official turnout figure of more than 8 million voters was tampered with, company CEO Antonio Mugica told reports in London. The international software company has provided voting technology in Venezuela since 2004.
He did not, however, specify whether his company’s figures showed 1 million fewer, or 1 million more, voters participated in the election.
“Even in moments of deep political conflict and division we have been satisfied with the voting process and the count has been completely accurate,” Mr. 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.”
The revelation drew an immediate reaction from opposition leaders, who have contended since Sunday’s results were announced that the National Electoral Council had inflated the turnout count. Julio Borges, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, said lawmakers were asking the nation’s chief prosecutor to investigate election commission members for potential crimes.
“They are going to install a fraudulent constitutional assembly and no one can say with certitude that these people ... were those who won or if they were the product of a scheme,” Mr. Borges said.
Despite the fraud allegations, Mr. Maduro’s supporters moved quickly install the new assembly on Thursday. Around the nation, the 545 newly elected delegates, many dressed in the ruling Socialist Party’s signature red, were honored in ceremonies and given certifications acknowledging their new powers.
Tibisay Lucena, the head of the National Electoral Council, dismissed Smartmatic’s voter tampering claim, calling 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,” she said.
Even before Smartmatic’s allegations, there were growing doubts over the veracity of the National Electoral Council’s official turnout count of 8 million. The opposition — a sizable portion of the population — boycotted the vote, and an independent exit poll concluded that less than half that number cast ballots. Opposition leaders said counts from observers stationed in each municipality also suggested the government’s numbers were inflated.
In an election in which virtually all the candidates were supporters of Mr. Maduro’s socialist party, voter turnout is one of the only indicators of how much popular support the constituent assembly might have.
Luis Emilio Rondon, one of five members on the electoral commission and the only who has sided with the opposition, said Tuesday he had grave doubts about the accuracy of the vote count, in part because the commission had ordered fewer audits than in previous elections. He also said it did not use permanent ink to mark voters’ fingers to ensure no one votes twice.
Smartmatic, which supplies services worldwide, was founded by Venezuelans in Caracas and began providing voting technology during the presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, an anti-U.S. populist who was a mentor to Mr. Maduro. In the past, opposition members have questioned the validity of results, but the firm has maintained its impartiality.
Luis Vicente Leon, president of Datanalisis, a Caracas-based polling agency, called Smartmatic’s findings, “without a doubt, the most devastating pronouncement yet for the credibility” of the nation’s electoral council.
Mr. Maduro called the vote in May after weeks of protests fed by anger at his government over food shortages, triple-digit inflation and high crime. He has argued that the body will help end the violence and protests that have left at least 125 dead, while also vowing the use the system to target enemies and solidify Venezuela as a socialist state.