Venezuelan electoral authorities said more than 8 million people voted Sunday to create a constitutional assembly endowing President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling socialist party with virtually unlimited powers — a report more than double the estimates of independent experts and opposition leaders who met the announcement with fury and derision.
National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people. Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted and one well-respected independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million.
The electoral council’s vote counts in the past have traditionally been seen as reliable and generally accurate, but Sunday’s widely mocked announcement appeared certain to escalate the polarization and political conflict paralyzing the country.
“The people have delivered the constitutional assembly,” Maduro said on national television. “More than 8 million in the middle of threats … it’s when imperialism challenges us that we prove ourselves worthy of the blood of the liberators that runs through the veins of men, women, children and young people.”
Across the capital, Venezuelans had appeared to be staying away from the polls in huge numbers in a show of protest against the vote. Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office reported 10 deaths in new rounds of the clashes between protesters and police that have killed at least 125 and wounded nearly 2,000 since protests began in April. Seven police officers were wounded when a fiery explosion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to blockade a street in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas.
“If it wasn’t a tragedy … if it didn’t mean more crisis, the electoral council’s number would almost make you laugh,” opposition leader Freddy Guevara said on Twitter. Maduro has threatened that one of the constitutional assembly’s first acts would be jailing…