CARACAS, July 18 (BERNAMA-NNN-XINHUA) — Venezuela saw its feuding political factions — the government and the opposition — both prepare their own polls on Sunday to challenge the legitimacy of each other’s survey of public opinions on the creation of a National Constituent Assembly (ANC).
Specifically, the government was holding a simulation of the July 30 vote to elect a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) while the opposition was organising an unofficial referendum of its own to gauge public support for or rejection of the ANC.
According to a report by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on Sunday, the simulation was seeing “high participation,” with CNE executive Sandra Oblitas saying that the event was taking place normally in Caracas.
“This is an opportunity to become familiarised with the particularities of the…vote for the ANC, where we are seeing very high participation and no irregularities,” she told the press.
Another CNE official, Socorro Hernandez, mentioned that the voting action is very quick and that international observers would be welcomed to supervise the July 30 ballot.
Representatives from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) are expected to be on hand.
The simulation on Sunday was supervised by the Venezuelan military, with soldiers deployed to ensure there are no acts of violence at all elections.
However, this vote comes at a time of high tension in Venezuela, with anti-government protests by the opposition, Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), has led to more than 90 deaths since early April.
The MUD sees establishment of the ANC, which will rewrite the Constitution, as a power grab by President Nicolas Maduro.
It is holding an unofficial referendum on Sunday to give the Venezuelan people a chance to be heard about the ANC, since Maduro called it without any warning.
Venezuelan National Assembly President Julio Borges said via Twitter that more than 7.2 million people took part in the vote, calling the turnout a clear rejection of Maduro.
Observers said the 7,186,170 votes for the opposition insides Venezuela and abroad was an impressive show of support.
However, it fell short of the opposition’s 7.7 million-vote showing in 2015 legislative elections and the 7.5 million votes that brought Maduro to power in 2013. Opposition leaders said that was because it was only able to set up 2,000 polling stations.
The referendum asks three questions of the Venezuelan people — whether they support or not Maduro’s call for the ANC, whether they support the Constitution of 1999, which Maduro is seeking to change, and whether officials in public office should be replaced.
Organizers said that most of the participants in the referendum rejected Maduro’s plans at the ballot box. However, no official vote count was available early Monday.
Also on Sunday, Maduro reiterated his call for political dialogue with the opposition.
“They (MUD) have a quiet consultation today (…) I tell them not to go crazy, we make a call for them to return to peace, to sit down and talk, to begin a new cycle of dialogue for peace,” said Maduro during a telephone interview with the state-owned Venezolana de Television.
He called on the opposition to recover “a democratic character” and “isolate” the sectors that Maduro blames for violent protests.
“We must be aware of the differences we have in the country, we must resolve them with peace, with votes and not bullets, with tolerance, with democracy,” continued Maduro.
Maduro claimed that the simulation of the ANC vote as having seen “very big” participation, larger than any election for 18 years.
However, his call for peace may have been affected by the death of a woman on Sunday at a voting center for the MUD referendum.
Late Sunday, the prosecutor-general issued a statement stating that a shooting at the town of Catia had killed the 61-year-old Xiomara Scott and three others outside a voting centre.
However, MUD representatives quickly attributed the attack on “armed groups” linked to the government.
The vice-president of the National Assembly, MUD member Freddy Guevara, sent a letter to Maduro and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, in which he claimed the army was responsible.
Scott’s death brings the total number of people killed since anti-government protests broke out in early April to 95.