Venezuela attorney general: Probe needed after allegations of inflated voting numbers
New body set to take place of smaller opposition-led National Assembly
Venezuela’s attorney general has initiated an investigation into potential voter fraud in Sunday’s election following allegations the government may have inflated voter numbers significantly.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz told CNN en Español that two prosecutors are investigating four of five directors of the National Electoral Council “for this very scandalous act that could generate more violence in the country than what we have already experienced.”
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called for last weekend’s vote, which led to the creation of a controversial new legislative body, the National Constituent Assembly. The body takes the place of the opposition-led National Assembly in a move that critics fear will erode democracy.
London-based Smartmatic, which provided the voting technology for the controversial vote, said Wednesday that the National Electoral Council voting numbers of more than 8 million people – about 41.53% of registered voters – are off by 1 million votes.
The opposition had boycotted the election, calling it fraudulent, and said the National Constituent Assembly will have the power to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution.
“It’s very serious, I believe we have to investigate and determine who is at fault,” said Ortega, a vocal critic of Maduro’s government.
“Probably, voter data doesn’t even match half of it (voter turnout).”
She called the formation of the new assembly a “significant event” and said the body has no oversight.
“They can do all they want. We are going to have a legislative body with super powers,” Ortega said. “It’s important for the country to know the reach of this fraud and if it constitutes a crime.”
Turnout figures ‘tampered with’
At a press conference Wednesday in London, Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica said the turnout figures had been “tampered with.”
“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,” he said.
Maduro disputed the assertion Wednesday. “The stupid president of Smartmatic, under pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom, now says only 7.5 million people voted,” he said. “I say it was more than 10 million.”
The attorney general also said her office is considering reaching out to international organizations if it determines that crimes against humanity were committed.
The newly elected Venezuelan legislative body will meet for the first time Friday morning, Maduro said in a speech broadcast nationwide. Virtually all the new body’s 545 members are supporters of the leftist leader.
Opposition groups – as well as supporters of the government – said they would march on Friday.
More than 350 members of the new assembly were elected in open municipal votes. The remaining members were elected by people from certain social and industry groups such as students, pensioners or workers.
Maduro also announced he had named Jorge Arreaza, a former vice president, as foreign minister. Samuel Moncada, who was foreign minister, will become Venezuela’s representative to the Organization of American States.
OAS to discuss ‘illegitimate electoral acts’
On Wednesday night, Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the OAS, called for an emergency council meeting regarding “the aggravation of the crisis in Venezuela.”
Almagro cited “illegitimate electoral acts for the installation of a Constituent Assembly, as well as electoral fraud of more than 1 million votes,” arguing that Venezuela is infringing on two articles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The meeting is to take place this weekend.
In a nonbinding July 16 referendum organized by opposition parties, an overwhelming majority of voters came out against Maduro’s plan.
The referendum asked voters three yes-no questions. More than 98% chose to reject the proposed constitutional assembly, request the military defend the existing constitution and support fresh elections before Maduro’s term ends in 2019.
About 7 million Venezuelans voted in that referendum – 37% of the country’s electorate.
Attorney general: Why I became a critic
In her CNN en Español interview, Ortega spoke for the first time about the events that led her to become a vocal critic of the Venezuelan government after years of being a staunch Chavista.
She told Fernando del Rincon that the political, social, and institutional crisis in the country were reason enough but said she was also motivated by the kidnapping of her daughter and grandson as well as continuous attacks at her workplace.
She said that, while attending a meeting of regional attorneys general, her daughter and grandson were abducted and that she experienced “permanent persecution, the siege to the … attorney general’s office, my house, the house of my relatives has been permanent in recent months.”
She said she has been consistent in her political views, while others in government have changed theirs.
“My position has always been the same, for five, 10 years, two years,” Ortega said. “I continue to act in the same way. I believe that those who have to check themselves are others.”
CNN’s Flora Charner reported from Caracas, while Euan McKirdy wrote from Hong Kong and Steve Almasy from Atlanta. CNN’s Julia Jones, Daniel Silva Fernandez and Nicole Chavez contributed to this report.