Maduro dismisses vote rigging charge, delays launch of new assembly
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has rejected an allegation that the recent vote on the powerful national assembly was rigged, calling the claim a “reaction by the international enemy.”
“Nothing can stain this process, because it’s transparent,” said the Venezuelan leader at a meeting with the delegates elected to the new Constituent Assembly on Wednesday.
According to the official figures released after Sunday’s vote, some eight million legitimate voters cast their ballots to elect a 545-seat assembly, which will be capable of rewriting the country’s constitution and dissolving the current opposition-led legislature.
However, the UK-based Smartmatic Group, a multinational electronic voting company that provided nearly 24,000 voting machines for Venezuelans to cast their votes electronically, claimed Wednesday that the turnout figures had been “tampered with.”
“We estimate the difference between the actual participation and the one announced by authorities is at least one million votes,” further said Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica at a news briefing in London.
Maduro, however, accused the international software firm of bowing to US pressure to cast doubt over the assembly, vowing that the electoral authorities would carry out a “100 percent audit.”
The Venezuelan leader not only defended the official count of over 8 million votes cast, but said another additional 2 million people would have participated in the election if they had not been blocked by anti-government protesters.
The assembly was initially scheduled to commence work on Thursday, but Maduro postponed the launch to Friday in the face of opposition plans for widespread protests.
“It has been proposed that the installation of the National Constituent Assembly, instead of being held tomorrow, be organized in peace and calm, with all necessary protocol, on Friday at 11:00 a.m. (1500 GMT),” he said.
The National Electoral Council (CNE), considered by the opposition as Maduro’s mouthpiece, for its part, criticized the vote-tampering accusation in a statement, calling it “an irresponsible contention based on estimates with no grounding in the data.”
On Monday, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a vocal dissenter in Maduro’s government, also said she would not recognize the newly-elected assembly, calling it an expression of “dictatorial ambition.”
The opposition legislators in the National Assembly have already announced that they would not recognize “the fraudulent and illegitimate” Constituent Assembly.
The election was held amid a wave of deadly clashes and violence, with protesters attacking polling stations and barricading streets.
The opposition, which had already boycotted the vote, rejected the election results as sham and called for further anti-government protests against the new assembly.
The unrest led to the engagement of anti-government protesters and security forces in street battles as voting was underway, leaving at least 10 people dead and bringing the death toll from four months of protest rallies to more than 120.
While Venezuela’s old allies, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia, supported the Sunday vote for the formation of the new 545-member body, the United States, the European Union, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Canada and Peru denounced the vote, saying the Constituent Assembly can destroy the Venezuelan democracy and institutionalize autocracy there.
Venezuela, an impoverished but oil-rich country, has been suffering from a persistent economic crisis in recent years, which in turn, has created a widening political crisis. Maduro blames the crisis on the US, saying Washington has incited the opposition.