Vote manipulation charge hangs over Venezuela’s new assembly

Caracas (AFP) – The legitimacy of a powerful new assembly in Venezuela being sworn in on Wednesday was thrown further into question when the voting technology firm involved in its election said the turnout figure was “manipulated.”

President Nicolas Maduro was to inaugurate the Constituent Assembly — whose loyalist 545 members include his wife and son — in a ceremony in a Caracas concert arena, his press office said.

The body, which was elected despite months of street demonstrations and international condemnation, is tasked with rewriting the constitution of the crisis-hit South American country.

It has wide powers superseding those of the opposition-controlled legislature, the National Assembly, whose palace it was to take over from Thursday, when it starts work.

The election of the new assembly on Sunday was marred by several deaths and clashes between security forces and protesters. Several Latin American countries said the vote destroyed Venezuela’s democratic system.

The United States imposed direct sanctions on Maduro, whom it called a “dictator.”

The European Union on Wednesday joined the US, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina in saying it would not recognize the new assembly.

The British firm that supplied Venezuela’s voting technology, Smartmatic, said in a London news conference on Wednesday that the official figures from the election were “tampered with” to make turnout appear greater than it was.

Venezuela’s electoral authority denied that assertion as “irresponsible.”

– ‘At least one million votes’ –

Smartmatic chief executive Antonio Mugica said: “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.”

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

Venezuela’s pro-government electoral authority had claimed more than eight million voters had taken part — 40 percent of…

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