CARACAS – Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC), a plenipotentiary body exclusively made up of allies of leftist President Nicolas Maduro, swore in on Wednesday 18 winners of gubernatorial elections held over the weekend.
Five opposition governors-elect boycotted the ceremony at the ANC, which Maduro’s opponents say is unconstitutional and was established earlier this year as part of a cynical ploy to sideline the opposition-controlled unicameral legislature, the National Assembly.
The ANC, also considered illegitimate by much of the international community, unanimously approved a decree that confirmed the new socialist governors.
Even though the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition has rejected the outcome of the gubernatorial balloting as fraud-ridden, only two opposition candidates – in the states of Vargas and Delta Amacuro – have clearly stated their intention to challenge the results.
The opposition says that tally sheets (on which the results are written up after the ballots are counted) had been manipulated and that the location of polling stations in opposition strongholds were changed shortly before the voting.
But the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, said on Wednesday at the ANC’s chamber that the Caribbean nation’s elections system was transparent and “a model admired around the world” due to its robust voting audits.
Leftist President Nicolas Maduro had said prior to Sunday’s elections that all winners would have to pledge their allegiance to the ANC, a body he has touted as necessary to lift Venezuela out of a deep political and economic crisis and bring peace to the country after months of opposition-led protests that led to at least 125 deaths.
Earlier Wednesday, the CNE proclaimed the ruling party’s candidate the winner of the gubernatorial election in the southeastern state of Bolivar, which had been the last result still pending after Sunday’s balloting.
The CNE said Justo Noguera, of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), garnered 276,655 votes while opposition hopeful Andres Velasquez received 275,184.
But Velasquez said on Wednesday that the Bolivar result was marred by fraud and called on people to take to the streets to protest the CNE’s announcement.
Velasquez says he won the election, claiming that the CNE invalidated three tally sheets that showed him winning by a wide margin.
He said those sheets had been disallowed because they were not verified by a witness, although the candidate said those witnesses had not been permitted to present themselves before the CNE.
Voter-preference surveys prior to the elections, which featured a much higher turnout than expected (around 61 percent), had indicated the opposition would win a majority of the gubernatorial races.