Venezuela inflated turnout in controversial vote: election firm

LONDON/CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela inflated the turnout figures for its constituent assembly election by at least 1 million votes, the company that provides voting machines to the country said on Wednesday, in a blow to President Nicolas Maduro and his ruling Socialist Party.

The news came hours after Reuters exclusively reported that only 3.7 million people had voted by 5:30 p.m. in Sunday’s poll, according to internal elections data, compared with 8.1 million people authorities said had voted that day.

Venezuela’s electoral council extended voting to 7 p.m., but election experts said doubling the vote in the last hour and a half would be without precedent.

Electronic voting technology firm Smartmatic, which created the voting system used by Venezuela since 2004, said the turnout figures had been tampered with.

“We know, without any doubt, that the turnout of the recent election for a National Constituent Assembly was manipulated,” said Smartmatic Chief Executive Antonio Mugica in a press briefing in London.

“We estimate the difference between the actual participation and the one announced by authorities is at least 1 million votes,” he said.

The opposition, which boycotted the vote, has dismissed the official tally of 8.1 million participants as fraudulent. That figure was crucial for Maduro to legitimize the election.

The opposition in July held an informal plebiscite that it said brought in more than 7 million voters who overwhelmingly rejected the creation of the constituent assembly.

The assembly will have the power to dissolve the opposition-run congress and is expected to sack the country’s chief prosecutor, who has harshly criticized Maduro this year.

Countries around the world have condemned the assembly, which has no legal restrictions on its powers, as an assault on democratic rule.

Critics say the assembly is meant to indefinitely extend Maduro’s rule. They say he would lose a free and fair presidential election and is widely criticized for an economic crisis marked by triple-digit inflation, rising poverty levels and chronic shortages of food and medicine.

Freddy Guevara, first Vice-President of the National Assembly and lawmaker of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD) attends a session of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, August 2, 2017.Marco Bello

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Maduro says the assembly was necessary to give the government power to end the economic crisis and bring peace…

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