Venezuelans vote in rival symbolic polls

Supporters of the Venezuelan government dance outside a polling booth on July 16.
July 21, 2017

Venezuela’s government and opposition both claimed millions voted in rival symbolic elections on July 16.

Venezuelans lined up from the early hours of the morning to take part in a dry run for the upcoming National Constituent Assembly (ANC) elections. Once officially elected on July 30, the ANC will have the power to propose changes to Venezuela’s constitution, though any official amendments will have to be put to a referendum.

Sunday’s mock vote was called by the country’s electoral authority, the CNE, as a measure to test voting machines and other infrastructure. No official participation figures have been released, though state media has reported participation was in the millions.

TeleSUR correspondent Iain Bruce reported voting centres were packed from “early morning until late at night”.

“Some of them were still lining up at 10pm after the exercise had been planned to finish at 4pm,” he stated.

Participants themselves said the dry run was a show of strength for Venezuela’s progressive movements.

“I am very happy to be here today, taking on my responsibility as a Venezuelan and a revolutionary,” commune activist Maria Rosa Peraza told Venezuelanalysis correspondent Katrina Kozarek.

Speaking outside a polling station in Barquisimeto, Lara state, she said the ANC could be used by activists such as herself to demand the government deepen its support for the country’s Bolivarian Revolution.

“One of the proposals that we have is to propel the communal state [forward],” she said.

The government has cited the high turnout as evidence of widespread support for the ANC.

“With their massive presence, the people today said enough violence,” President Nicolas Maduro said.

The opposition held its own unofficial referendum that same day on whether the ANC should go ahead. According to the opposition, just over 7 million Venezuelans cast ballots in the unofficial referendum.

At least one death has been reported, with the Attorney General's office stating a woman was shot while waiting in line to vote in Caracas. Three other people were injured in the incident, which the opposition has blamed on pro-government civilians.

Prosecutors say they are investigating the case, though elsewhere voting was largely peaceful.

The unofficial referendum has been condemned by the government and its supporters, who have argued it lacked transparency.

“There are several international standards … that are being broken,” said Loengri Nino, a CNE regional rector in Lara state.

Speaking to Venezuelanalysis, Nino explained, “For example, a fundamental element for the organisation of an electoral event is a validated electoral register … [and] an audit by all of the political organisations.”

Nino argued that without these measures, the unofficial referendum could easily be marred by voter fraud, including double voting.

Neither the government nor opposition have made any evidence publicly available to back up their conflicting figures.

Meanwhile, the US has responded to the opposition vote, with President Donald Trump describing the unofficial referendum as an example of “democracy, freedom, and rule of law” in a White House statement on July 17.

Trump threatened that “If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions”.

The statement continued: “The United States once again calls for free and fair elections and stands with the people of Venezuela in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”

Aside from the ANC vote, the next official elections are scheduled to take place on December 10, when Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect new governors and state legislators. Presidential elections are slated to take place in 2018.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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