CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s president defiantly dismissed allegations that official turnout figures for the election of an all-powerful constituent assembly were manipulated, accusing the international software firm behind the claim of bowing to U.S. pressure to cast doubt over a body that he hopes will entrench an even more staunchly socialist state.
In his first meeting with assembly delegates Wednesday night, President Nicolas Maduro not only stood by the official count of 8 million-plus votes cast in Sunday’s divisive election, but proclaimed that an additional 2 million people would have voted if they hadn’t been blocked by anti-government protesters.
Maduro also announced a one-day delay in the assembly’s installation, saying it would convene on Friday instead of Thursday as planned, in order to “organize it well in peace and tranquility.”
The body is empowered to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution and Maduro vows he will use it to target his opponents and solidify the socialist system installed by the late President Hugo Chavez. Maduro called the vote in May after weeks of protests fueled by widespread anger over food shortages, triple-digit inflation and high crime — unrest that continues and has caused at least 125 deaths.
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The head of voting technology company Smartmatic said earlier Wednesday that the National Electoral Council’s voter turnout number was off by at least 1 million, further darkening uncertainty over the veracity over the results. Independent analysts and opposition leaders have contended that the actual participation level was much lower.
With the opposition boycotting the election, virtually all the candidates were supporters of Maduro’s ruling socialist party, so turnout was watched as one of the only indicators of how much popular support there is for the constituent assembly.
“That stupid guy, the president of Smartmatic, pressured to the neck by the gringos and the Brits, said there were 7.5 million,” Maduro said in televised remarks. “I think there were 10 million Venezuelans who went out.”
Maduro provided no evidence to support his claim, but his remarks were received with resounding applause from about 500 people elected to the assembly.
Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic, told reporters in London that results recorded by the company’s systems and those reported by the National…