Venezuela voter count was fraudulent, says voting firm

Turnout figures for controversial assembly election inflated by ‘at least one million’

A demonstrator uses a slingshot during clashes that marked the constituent assembly election in Caracas, Venezuela on Sunday. Photograph:  Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

A demonstrator uses a slingshot during clashes that marked the constituent assembly election in Caracas, Venezuela on Sunday. Photograph: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

 

The voter count in Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s push to create a so-called constituent assembly last weekend was fraudulent, according to the company in charge of the electronic voting system.

“Based on the robustness of our system, we know, without any doubt, that the turnout of the recent election for a national constituent assembly was manipulated,” Smartmatic said in a statement.

The company, which has provided voting technology in Venezuela since 2004 and been praised by the government in the past, said the difference between the actual participation rate and the official result was “at least 1m votes”.

According to the government, 8m Venezuelans voted for the assembly, a supra-legislative body that will have the power to suspend other institutions - including the democratically elected and opposition-dominated parliament.

Mr Maduro has called the vote, which will allow him to consolidate his rule, “a historic triumph”. But it has been dogged by allegations of fraud from the start.

Exit polls suggested that at most 4m Venezuelans voted. Furthermore, according to internal data collected by the government-controlled Electoral Council and seen by Reuters, only 3.7m people had cast their ballots by 5.30pm on voting day, casting further doubt on the supposed 8m result. Voting centres shut at 7pm.

“Although it’s possible to have a late push at the end of the day . . . to double the vote in an hour and a half would be without precedent,” Jennifer McCoy of the Atlanta-based Carter Centre who has led several election observation missions to Venezuela in the past, told the news agency.

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The government has not responded to the revelations.

By comparison, 7.2m Venezuelans voted against the constituent assembly in a non-binding referendum organised by the opposition on July 16th.

The US, EU, Canada and the governments of all of Latin America’s biggest countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, have already said they would not recognise the new constituent assembly. The US sanctioned Mr Maduro on Monday, characterising him as a “dictator”.

Smartmatic, based in London, said its electronic voting system was tamper-proof as it self-reports interference. The vote for the assembly was also not corroborated by manual audits as in past tallies, Smartmatic added.

Venezuela’s attorney-general Luisa Ortega has called the official results “a mockery”, and Luis Rondon, an independent member of the electoral council, said he could not guarantee the vote’s results.

EU response

Separately, the European Union on Wednesday declined to recognise the result of Venezuela’s violence-marred election and said it was ready to “gradually step up” pressure on Mr Maduro, though shied away from introducing sanctions.

The European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the bloc’s 28 member states could not recognise the constituent assembly “as they have concerns over its effective representativeness and legitimacy”.

Washington and the EU tend to coordinate their sanctions but the bloc has been divided over how to respond. The EU told Mr Maduro to “take urgent measures to rectify the course of events” and that it was “ready to gradually step up . . . response in case democratic principles are further undermined and the Venezuelan constitution is not respected”.

It would need unanimity to act. Spain has been the most vocal in advocating sanctions but others have mostly been coy. The head of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, on Tuesday joined those calling for Mr Maduro to be punished.

In a letter, he said that following the “unjustified arrests” of opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez, he would like to consider “freezing assets and imposing travel ban to the EU to the members of the Venezuelan government including its president, Nicolas Maduro and its entourage”.

Diplomats in Brussels said that did not seem imminent, but stressed the sense of worry was building up in the bloc and that could lead to more action ahead.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017/Reuters