CARACAS – The president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, said the electronic voting company in charge of counting the number of ballots cast in last weekend’s Constituent Assembly election had acted irresponsibly in accusing her office of manipulating the final tally.
“It’s an irresponsible assertion based on estimations that are unsupported by data managed exclusively” by the CNE, Lucena told reporters.
The president of the electoral body said her office may take legal action against the company for its statements, which she said had come after three days of calm in a country racked by months of violent anti-government protests that have left 121 dead and nearly 2,000 injured.
“We’ve defended our elections and their outcomes in other difficult moments ... and we’re going to defend Venezuelans’ right to express themselves in peace and democracy,” she added.
The CNE says 8 million Venezuelans – or around 41 percent of the electorate – participated in Sunday’s vote to choose members of a new body that will rewrite the nation’s constitution.
But Smartmatic, a provider of election technology and support services in Venezuela since 2004, said in a statement Wednesday that the tally in Sunday’s vote had been manipulated.
“Even in moments of deep political conflict and division (in Venezuela), we have been satisfied that the voting process and the count has been completely accurate. It is, therefore, with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout figures on Sunday, July 30, for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with,” the company said in a statement.
President Nicolas Maduro has touted the Constituent Assembly as necessary to lift Venezuela out of political deadlock and a deep economic crisis; in that context, turnout for the vote – which was boycotted by the opposition – was important to give the new body legitimacy.
Government opponents, who have been stymied in their efforts to oust Maduro via a recall referendum, say the assembly is a cynical ploy to buy time and will be used as a mechanism to increase the president’s power and sideline the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Venezuela’s unicameral legislature.
Maduro vowed after the election that the Constituent Assembly would take control of the Attorney General’s Office, headed by government critic Luisa Ortega Diaz, who on Monday said the president was using the assembly to seize absolute power.
On Wednesday, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro said Ortega Diaz had been the target of constant threats by “authorities of Nicolas Maduro’s regime.”
In the wake of the Constituent Assembly election, two opposition leaders and prominent former mayors who have been convicted of various charges, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, were moved early Tuesday from house arrest back to prison.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court said they had been plotting to escape.