CARACAS – Venezuela’s opposition claimed 15 people were killed Sunday in election day violence as voters took part in a controversial vote for members of the Constituent Assembly.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles spoke of 15 deaths, while the state prosecutor said eight deaths had been confirmed.
At least seven national guardsmen were reported injured in an attack in the capital Caracas.
Capriles spoke of a “black day” and blamed what he termed President Nicolas Maduro’s “sick ambition.”
The head of the opposition faction of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Stalin Gonzalez, warned Sunday that President Nicolas Maduro would regret what he termed the “fraudulent” election.
He also said that hours after polling stations opened, voter turnout was estimated at some 3 per cent of the 19.4 million registered voters, or roughly 580,000 voters.
“The country is in a state of disobedience and does not want to be complicit in this fraud,” Gonzalez said at a press conference. “Maduro will regret the fraud that he convened today for the rest of his life.”
Gonzalez pointed to a non-binding, independent poll on July 16, which suggested that 7.5 million Venezuelans opposed the establishment of a Constituent Assembly.
At the same press conference, the first vice president of the National Assembly, Freddy Guevara, said that repression by law enforcement officials had become “more aggressive” on Sunday, in order to prevent a mass opposition demonstration that had been planned at a main highway junction in the east of the capital Caracas.
Leaders from the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition had called for a boycott of the vote and refused to put up any candidates for the elections to the Constituent Assembly, arguing that the body’s structure means it will be inevitably skewed in Maduro’s favour.
Early on Sunday, Maduro marked his ballot in the working-class neighbourhood of Catia, in eastern Caracas, to cast what he called the “first vote” in the election, alongside his wife Cilia Flores, who is among the 5,500 candidates up for election.
TV footage showed Maduro presenting his ID card to a scanner, which then returned the message “The person does not exist or the card was cancelled.” The video was shared thousands of times on social media networks.
The vote has been hit with other problems too. Maduro has refused to back down from the election despite calls from the opposition and world leaders to cancel the vote to elect 545 members to the assembly, which is tasked with rewriting the constitution.
“There is no power in the world that can prevent the Venezuelan people from exercising their right to vote,” said Maduro, adding that he hoped the international community would “open its arms” and respect the result of the election.
But the governments of Argentina, Peru, Chile, Brazil and Colombia said Sunday they would not respect the result. The United States placed sanctions on 13 current or former Venezuelan officials ahead of the vote and spoke of a “flawed” election process that would undermine democracy.
After polling stations opened Sunday, government and opposition figures took to social media to portray contrasting images of the election.
The armed forces had planned to deploy 232,000 soldiers amid fears that protesters would blockade or attack polling stations. There was a heavy police presence in Caracas.