The CEO of a voting technology company said on Wednesday that the results of a recent election in Venezuela were off by at least 1 million votes, confirming the suspicions of some opposition figures that the tallies were inflated.
Antonio Mugica, the CEO of Smartmatic, a company that provides electronic voting systems intended to make elections easier to audit, said “without any doubt” the official tallies reported by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council were much greater than those recorded by the Smartmatic’s voting system.
“Even in moments of deep political conflict and division we have been satisfied with the voting process and the count has been completely accurate,” Mugica told reporters. “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 vote, held over the weekend, came after years of political turmoil in Venezuela, largely related to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro and a constitutional crisis his socialist government has brought about. In October of last year, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council canceled a referendum intended to remove Maduro from office, prompting a massive opposition march through the streets of Caracas in protest of the decision.
By this March, after dialogue stalled between the government and the opposition, the largely pro-Maduro Supreme Council of Justice (TSJ), the equivalent of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, seized power from the opposition-led legislature and stripped its members of their parliamentary immunity, a move roundly criticized by foreign officials and analysts as a step toward authoritarianism.
On April Fools Day this year, ironically, the TSJ reversed its decision and restored power to the legislative National Assembly, though anger over the initial decision remained.
Now, this weekend’s election was intended to establish a new National Constitutional Assembly that would grant enormous powers to the ruling United Socialist Party. Smartmatic’s findings only serve to strengthen opposition fears that the election results were manipulated to favor Maduro’s party.
“This is an earthquake of worldwide proportions, because what we’d been screaming at the top of our lungs now has complete confirmation,” National Assembly President Julio Borges told the press on Wednesday. “Smartmatic has declared it has hard, incontrovertible data that not only was the constituent election fraudulent at a constitutional level, but also because all the results the national electoral council read that night are absolutely fraudulent.”
The country’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, told CNN on Wednesday that an investigation was under way into the vote count, fulfilling the National Assembly’s request for an inquiry.
“We have before us an unprecedented, grave event that constitutes a crime,” Ortega said, adding that a finding of vote fraud “might lead to more violence” in Venezuela’s already white hot political climate.
The Venezuelan government, predictably, rejected the firm’s conclusion, with Venezuelan election chief Tibisay Lucena dismissing the allegations of fraud as “baseless,” and claiming Smartmatic is motivated only by a fear of losing business in the United States.
The U.S. responded to the election with a round of sanctions, freezing any assets held by Maduro under American jurisdiction, cutting off access from the U.S. financial system and prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with him. While the U.S. is always looking to insinuate itself into the business of other countries, some in the Venezuelan opposition don’t wish to see further American involvement, especially not the proposal for an outright oil embargo spearheaded by Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
“Maduro is not just a bad leader,” U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said. “He is now a dictator.”
Maduro was defiant in the face of the American sanctions, saying in a television appearance “Impose all the sanctions that you want, but I’m a free president.”
A free president is a good start, but perhaps a free citizenry should be the next step for Maduro’s fledgling socialist state.
Venezuela’s state-managed economy has run into severe problems in recent years, illustrated by the empty shelves in barren grocery stores in the country’s capital city. While the Chavez-era policy that had the government seize food production facilities was intended to provide free access to food for all Venezuelans, characteristic of all socialist policies, the intentions did not change the real outcome. Venezuela is now in a food crisis as well as a constitutional one.
It remains to be seen how the situation will resolve, however it seems clear the political tensions and economic difficulties will stick with Venezuela for some time to come.
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