According to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), the turnout in the controversial election for a constituent assembly was 41.5%, a figure disputed by the opposition.
The opposition coalition said 88% of voters abstained and it refused to recognize the election. It also called for more protests on July 31.
July 30 election was marred by violence, with widespread protests and at least 10 people killed.
President Nicolás Maduro hailed the poll as a “vote for the revolution”.
Venezuelans were asked to choose the more than 500 representatives who will make up a constituent assembly.
The constituent assembly was convened by Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the existing constitution, which was drafted and passed in 1999 when his mentor, President Hugo Chávez, was in office.
On July 31, the head of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, announced that there had been an “extraordinary turnout” of more than eight million voters.
She also announced that President Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, was among those elected as representatives, as well as the president’s close allies Diosdado Cabello, Iris Varela and Delcy Rodríguez.
Image source Wikipedia
The announcement was met with outrage and derision by the opposition, who boycotted the vote.
Opposition politician Henry Ramos Allup said their figures suggested fewer than 2.5 million Venezuelans had turned out to vote.
With the opposition boycotting the election from the start and not fielding any candidates, it was always less about who would be elected and more about how many Venezuelans would take part in the voting.
The opposition held an unofficial referendum two weeks before the election asking Venezuelans whether they wanted a constituent assembly at all. According to opposition figures, more than seven million Venezuelans rejected the constituent assembly in that vote.
The opposition urged Venezuelans to stay at home and even some Chavistas (supporters of the socialist movement created by President Hugo Chávez and of which Nicolas Maduro is a part) said they objected to the constituent assembly and would not vote.
There were widespread reports of public sector workers being told by their bosses to go and vote or face being sacked.
How many people turned out was therefore seen as a key indicator of support for the government.
The opposition claims that the figures are unverifiable because a number of procedures which have been in place at previous elections were not followed.
For example, voters’ little fingers were not marked with indelible ink to prevent them from trying to vote multiple times.
There were also no independent observers.
However, Tibisay Lucena said voting had proceeded “normally” and that violent outbreaks at a small number of polling stations had been controlled.
Nicolas Maduro convened the constituent assembly on 1 May amid fierce anti-government protests.
The president argued the constituent assembly would promote “reconciliation and peace”, however he did not give details of exactly how rewriting the constitution would achieve such broad aims.
Government critics fear that President Maduro wants to use the constituent assembly to maximize his power and cling on to it for longer.
As the constituent assembly will be drawing up a new constitution it has the potential to fundamentally change how Venezuela is run.
The last time a constituent assembly met in 1999, the legislature was suspended while the constitution was debated.
The opposition has called for fresh protests on July 31.
On July 30, at least 10 people were killed in protests across the country, prompting opposition leader Henrique Capriles to speak of a “massacre”.
Despite a government ban on protests and the threat of jail terms of up to 10 years for anyone disrupting the electoral process, streets were barricaded and a number of polling stations attacked ahead of the vote.
Tensions are likely to increase further on July 31 and ahead of the swearing-in of the constituent assembly members on August 2.
The government has called on its supporters to hold rival marches.
Venezuela is deeply divided between those who support the government of the socialist President Nicolas Maduro and those who blame him for the economic crisis and want him gone from power.
Image source Wikimedia
There has been a series of anti-government protests in Caracas and other major cities, as well as marches by government supporters.
In their joint statement, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay rejected the violence, which led to the deaths of six people during the recent demonstrations.
The Latin American countries called on President Nicolas Maduro “to prevent any violence against protesters” and also called on opposition groups “to exercise their right to demonstrate responsibly so that the day remains peaceful with people expressing themselves calmly”.
They also called on the Venezuela government to quickly set dates for elections to be held “to solve the grave crisis which Venezuela is experiencing and which worries the region”.
Regional elections originally due to be held in December 2016 were postponed by the electoral council to 2017, but a date has not yet been set.
Municipal elections are also due to be held in 2017.
Minister Delcy Rodriguez also wrote that “these governments misuse international law to back interventionism in Venezuela to attempt to govern the country from abroad”.
Delcy Rodriguez ended a series of tweets by saying that “there is no imperialist force in this world which can defeat the sovereign people of Venezuela”.
Venezuela has issued new protest rules allowing troops to open fire if they feel their lives are at risk during demonstrations.
The new regulation specifies a scaled approach to maintaining public order, up to and including the use of deadly force.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the changes were made in response to three months of violent protests last year.
Citizen rights groups in Venezuela say the new rules are “dangerously vague”.
Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the aim was to establish a protocol to help train and improve troops’ responses to public protests.
However, the minister said the rules had been written as “a profound response to human rights, to life and to protesters”.
The Venezuelan ombudsman, Tarek Williams Saab, said the regulations were “very clear on the progressive and differentiated use of force” and the aim was “to protect human rights and rights in demonstrations”.
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He was responding to a series of criticisms from civic groups.
Marcela Maspero of the National Workers Union called the plans “a direct threat to the working class.
“It is the workers who have been the main participants in the social protests in the country in the last few years.”
She said the country was going through hard economic times, and there had been protests about the serious problems in the food supply chain and increases in the price of petrol.
Marcela Maspero felt the government was publishing these rules as “a warning” to the workers.
Civil rights groups pointed out that the ruling was unconstitutional because the Constitution expressly forbids the use of firearms to control peaceful demonstrations.
Rocio San Miguel, who works for the NGO Control Ciudadano (Citizen Control) was quoted by the French news agency AFP as saying it was right to regulate how soldiers behaved but the new regulations were “dangerously vague and controversial”.
The rules were published a few days before the anniversary of the start of three months of anti-government protests last year in several cities in which at least 40 people died, including police and protestors.