Puebla, Mexico, July 18, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s government and opposition both claimed millions voted in rival symbolic elections Sunday, with at least one death being reported.
Venezuelans lined up from the early hours of the morning to participate in a dry run for the upcoming National Constituent Assembly (ANC) elections. Once officially elected on July 30, the ANC will have the power to propose changes to Venezuela’s constitution, though any official amendments will have to be put to a referendum. Sunday’s mock vote was called by the country’s electoral authority, the CNE, as a measure to test voting machines and other voting infrastructure. No official participation figures have been released, though state media has reported participation was in the millions.
TeleSUR correspondent Iain Bruce reported voting centres were packed from “early morning until late at night”.
“Some of them were still lining up at 10 pm after the exercise had been planned to finish at 4 pm,” he stated.
Participants themselves said the dry run was a show of strength for Venezuela’s progressive movements.
“I am very happy to be here today, taking on my responsibility as a Venezuelan and a revolutionary,” commune activist Maria Rosa Peraza told Venezuelanalysis correspondent Katrina Kozarek.
Speaking outside a polling station in Barquisimeto, Lara state, she said the ANC could be used by activists such as herself to demand the government deepen its support for the country’s Bolivarian Revolution.
“One of the proposals that we have is to propel the communal state [forward],” she said.
The government has cited the high turnout as evidence of widespread support for the ANC.
“With their massive presence, the people today said enough violence,” President Nicolas Maduro said.
He continued, “Venezuela said today: peace, peace and peace.”
The mock vote was boycotted by the opposition, which instead held its own unofficial referendum on whether the ANC should go ahead. According to the opposition, just over 7 million Venezuelans cast ballots in the unofficial referendum opposing the ANC.
At least one death has been reported, with the attorney general's office stating a woman was shot while waiting in line to vote in Caracas. Three other people were injured in the incident, for which the opposition has blamed on pro-government civilians.
Prosecutors say they are investigating the case, though elsewhere voting was largely peaceful.
In Barquisimeto, opposition voter Leomar Pastor Tovar said he hoped to send a message to Maduro that “the people are asking urgently for a change of government”.
“What we want right now with this popular consultation is to show the government that the people really want a change, what the people really want are general elections,” he told Venezuelanalysis.
The unofficial referendum has been condemned by the government and its supporters, who have argued it lacked transparency.
“There are several of international standards … that are being broken,” said Loengri Niño, a CNE regional rector in Lara state.
Speaking to Venezuelanalysis, Niño explained, “For example, a fundamental element for the organisation of an electoral event is a validated electoral register … [and] an audit by all of the political organisations.”
Niño argued that without these measures, the unofficial referendum could easily be marred by voter fraud, including double voting.
The government itself has claimed this happened on a large scale, with senior socialist party official and Caracas mayor Jorge Rodriguez alleging that only 2 million people voted.
Along with double voting, he also claimed there appeared to be irregularities in the number of Venezuelan expats who voted.
“There are 101,000 Venezuelans living abroad who are registered to vote, but according to the opposition, 693,000 people [abroad] voted,” he alleged.
Neither the government or opposition have made any evidence publicly available that backs up their conflicting figures, with the latter vowing to burn ballots to protect voter privacy. The government has also accused the opposition of failing to invite international observers to monitor the election. The opposition did, however, invite a handful of their international supporters to oversee the vote, including former heads of state from across the region. These included Mexico’s Vicente Fox, Bolivia’s Jorge Quiroga, Colombia’s Andres Pastrana and Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla and Miguel Angel Rodriguez. All five former presidents have since been banned from returning to Venezuela.
Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada accused the group of abusing Venezuelan hospitality, and singled out Fox for allegedly seeking to “promote violence and the intervention of foreign powers”.
The move appeared to be in response to a speech Fox gave to opposition supporters, where he labelled Maduro a “dictator”.
Meanwhile, the US has also responded to the opposition vote, with President Donald Trump describing the unofficial referendum as an example of “democracy, freedom, and rule of law”.
“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a White House statement.
“If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions,” he said.
The statement continued, “The United States once again calls for free and fair elections and stands with the people of Venezuela in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
Aside from the ANC vote, the next official elections are already scheduled to take place on December 10, when Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect new governors and state legislators.
Presidential elections are slated to take place in 2018.