CARACAS—Even though most Venezuelans already knew that a much maligned vote last Sunday would be nothing less than a PR campaign for President Nicolás Maduro’s government, and a frontal assault on democratic institutions, many were still astonished by how brazenly Maduro’s people manipulated the results. Even the company that made the voting machines has announced there was massive fraud.
On Sunday, July 30, Venezuelans were asked, and many were forced, to vote for candidates who would replace the country’s top legislative body, the national assembly, in an omnipotent constitutional assembly. It will have the power to rewrite the country’s constitution and dissolve all state institutions.
Although the country’s opposition coalition attempted to stop the government’s campaign to create the new body with large-scale street protests in which over 25 Venezuelans lost their lives this week, the huge crowds called for did not materialize. So the formation of the constitutional assembly was a foregone conclusion. The only questions were, who would actually be elected, and how many people would vote.
Over 6,000 candidates were proposed to the population, with 545 eventually being selected for the new body. As of Wednesday, three days after the vote, the lists of those newly elected to rule over the country were still secret.
But the government, vying with Trumpian hyperbole, wasted no time declaring it one of the most successful voter turnouts in the country’s history. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced that over 8 million people had voted in the election.
The number was met with heavy skepticism.
“I actually laughed when Lucena said the numbers,” says 24-year-old Estefania in Caracas. “It was obvious that they were going to cheat with the numbers because they don’t have any support, and it was an illegal election anyway, but I didn't think that they would give such an absurd number of votes.”
Her feelings were justified later when Reuters journalist Girish Gupta reported that internal electoral council data reviewed by Reuters showed only 3.7 million people had voted by 5:30 p.m.
Those figures later were corroborated by New York based investment bank Torino Capital, which said that its exit polls put the number of voters around 3.6 million.
Putting a final nail in the coffin of the credibility of the government’s tally was Antonio Mugica, the CEO of Smartmatic, the company that makes the voting machines used in the election. Mugica said they know without any doubt, that the turnout of the recent election for a national constituent assembly was manipulated.
Smartmatic has provided these election services in Venezuela since 2004. It’s designed to identify immediately any attempt to tamper with the system.
“We estimate the difference between the actual participation and the one announced by authorities is at least one million votes,” said Mugica. “It is therefore with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout figures on Sunday, 30 July, for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with.
“An audit would allow everyone to know the exact participation,” said Mugica. “It is important to point out that this would not have occurred if the auditors of all political parties had been present at the different stages of the election.”
If the 8 million figure were true, which clearly it is not, it would make the vote comparable to turnout for the late President Hugo Chavez in his prime, when oil was at its peak and the country was the wealthiest in Latin America.
“That must be a joke,” says Estefania. “The last two years here have been the most terrible in every point of view.”
Another native of Caracas, a 25-year-old banking analyst named Andrea, laughed uproariously when asked what she made of the government’s claim that 8 million had voted.
“That was bullshit,” says Andrea. “There aren’t 8 million Chavistas left, but there are people eating trash and sleeping on the streets now.”
The Daily Beast spoke to half a dozen Venezuelans, from all walks of life ranging from the ages of 20 into their forties, including one economist, who all shared the same opinion, with answers ranging from “it’s not true,” to “they are bloody bastards and liars.” But none wanted their full names used.
One 28-year-old woman in Caracas who calls herself a member of “the resistance,” and her father, a former employee of the state run oil company PDVSA, succinctly summed up most people’s thoughts.
“We thought it was just fraud,” she said.