Puebla, Mexico, August 3, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan electoral authorities have defended the outcome of the country’s latest election, amid allegations of fraud from a voting machine supplier.
In a statement released Wednesday, the head of Venezuela’s electoral authority (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, accused electronic voting firm Smartmatic of bowing to U.S. pressure and making “baseless estimates” of alleged fraud during Sunday’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC) elections.
“[The fraud allegation] was an irresponsible assertion, based on estimates without basis in the data,” Lucena said, adding that the CNE may consider legal action against the firm.
The statement was in response to an announcement from Smartmatic head Antonio Mugica that his firm had concluded Sunday’s electoral outcome was tampered with. For over a decade, Smartmatic has provided the CNE with electronic voting machines and voting software. Both the firm and Venezuela’s government have long claimed Smartmatic’s voting system is among the most secure and transparent in the world.
“Based on the robustness of our system, we know, without any doubt, that the turn out of the recent election for a national constituent assembly was manipulated,” Mugica told a press conference in London.
According to Mugica, the company believes the difference between “the actual participation and the one announced by authorities is at least one million votes”.
Lucena hit back by alleging Smartmatic doesn’t have access to the on-the-ground data necessary to detect fraud. She also accused the company of acting inappropriately by failing to inform the CNE of the allegations before making them public.
“This is an unprecedented opinion on the part of a company whose only role in the electoral process is to provide certain services and technical support that are not decisive in the results,” she said.
Lucena continued, “But even worse, the company Smartmatic participated in all audits, … these audits include certification of the machine software and the total system that is now in doubt.”
Smartmatic is yet to release their technical data, though Mugica said, “Our automated election system is designed to make it evident when results are manipulated.”
He also noted the credibility of the official vote tally was undermined by an absence of opposition electoral observers, who boycotted the vote.
“It is important to point out that this would not have occurred if the auditors of all political parties had been present at the different stages of the election,” he said, before urging the CNE to conduct an audit. This proposal has been endorsed by one of the ruling socialist party’s most prominent figures, Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez. He said a full audit of the results would reveal Mugica’s statements to be “tall stories and lies”.
Similar sentiments were expressed by President Nicolas Maduro, who appeared to suggest Mugica had made his allegations for political reasons.
“That stupid guy, the president of Smartmatic, pressured to the neck by the gringos and the British, said there were 7.5 million [voters],” the president said.
“I think there were 10 million Venezuelans who went out,” he added, stating the additional 2 million were likely barred from voting by the often armed anti-government groups who had vowed to disrupt the election. The president also called for an audit.
Questioning the vote
Nonetheless, the official vote tally has been questioned by both Maduro’s political rivals and some of his allies. In an interview with Union Radio, the National Assembly member and head of the Patria Para Todos (PPT) party IIenia Medina called for the CNE to release further data on the results. PPT is part of a broad electoral coalition headed by Maduro’s socialist party. Nonetheless, Medina argued the CNE should explain how it allocated seats.
Meanwhile, the opposition has dismissed the election as a fraud, claiming around 2 million people turned out to vote. The opposition is yet to provide evidence, or explain how they calculated this figure. Meanwhile, an exit poll of 110 voting centers conducted by New York investment bank Torino Capital concluded only around 3.6 million voted.
Speaking to Democracy Now, Torino’s chief economist Francisco Rodriguez claimed the official vote count was not credible.
“The last election that you had, the last uncontested election, in terms of the results that you had, Maduro got about 5.5 million votes. It would be very difficult to believe that he’s actually regained two-and-a-half million votes in the context of one of the deepest economic contractions in world history,” Rodriguez said.
In another estimate, Reuters has reported allegations only 3.7 million votes had been cast by 5.30pm Sunday. The news outlet claimed the figure was based on leaked “internal electoral council data”.
In much of the country, voting remained open through to at least 7pm.
“Although it’s possible to have a late push at the end of the day, and the Socialist Party has tried to do that in the past, to double the vote in the last hour and a half would be without precedent,” political scientist and former Carter Center electoral observer Jennifer McCoy told Reuters.
According to the CNE’s official tally, just over 8 million Venezuelans participated in Sunday’s vote. This figure has been endorsed by the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts (CEELA), which accompanied the vote.
“We were [involved] in the audits of the days prior to the election, we verified the legality of the convocation to the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), and the form of distribution and the election of the members of the assembly,” CEELA’s head Nicanor Moscoso told RT.
Moscoso described Venezuela’s electoral infrastructure as a “tremendously reliable system”, and dismissed allegations of fraud as a political ploy by the opposition.
“This [allegation of fraud] is just a way of doing politics, and not a real evaluation of the electoral process,” he said.
Along with alleging fraud, the opposition also staged protests throughout the day of the election, and there were reports of armed anti-government groups disrupting the vote in some parts of the country.
In total, around 200 voting centres reported opposition attacks on Sunday. In one incident, a group of police officers in Caracas were injured by an improvised explosive device that shook the capital. At least 10 deaths were reported throughout the day.
ANC to go ahead
Despite the unrest, the government has maintained that the ANC will go ahead, with the assembly slated to be officially inaugurated on Friday. Once formed, the ANC will have the power to propose constitutional changes, which would have to be put to a referendum before passing into law.
More than 5000 candidates were on Sunday’s ballot, with around 500 winning seats in the assembly. On Wednesday, Maduro met with the elected ANC members, telling them the fate of the country is “in your hands”.
“The constituent assembly … will have to … to regenerate the country, to re-found the country on a very firm base of peace,” he said.
While the ANC and Sunday’s vote have been condemned by the US, regional leftist governments have praised the election, including Bolivia, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The latest country to endorse the vote was China, which said Sunday’s election was held in a “generally stable manner”.
In a statement, China’s foreign ministry urged for calm, and called for “peaceful dialogue” between the Maduro administration and the opposition.
“China is confident that the Venezuelan government and its people will be able to resolve their internal affairs, since achieving a stable and developed country is in the interests of all parties,” the ministry said.
Correction: Aprevious version of this article stated Ilenia Medina questioned how the vote was tallied. She actually questioned how the seats were allocated. This has since been corrected.