Mon Jul 31, 2017 5:36AM
Venezuelans line up to cast their ballot at a polling station in Caracas on July 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Venezuelans line up to cast their ballot at a polling station in Caracas on July 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Over eight million Venezuelans have participated in the Sunday vote to elect a powerful new congress, which will be allowed to rewrite the constitution, with President Nicolas Maduro hailing the results as a victory for the country’s Bolivarian Revolution.

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council said Monday that the turnout was 41.5 percent-- more than double the estimates of both the government’s political opponents and independent experts.

“Peace has won. If peace has won, Venezuela has won,” said Tibisay Lucena, the council’s president, at a televised press conference, the pan–Latin American Telesur television network reported. “Despite the violence and threats, Venezuelans were able to express themselves.”

Speaking at a large gathering of government supporters, Maduro thanked the nation for supporting the vote and said it was one of the highest voter turnouts in the history of the Bolivarian Revolution, with 8,089, 320 casting ballots to select their representatives.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is shown casting his vote in Caracas on July 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

“It is the biggest vote the revolution has ever scored in its 18-year history,” he said, referring to the year his late predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, came to power.

“Eight million in the middle of threats, there were states where they crossed rivers and mountains, and they voted,” Maduro said.

He also hailed the Latin American and Caribbean countries for standing by Venezuela against “interventionist” moves by the United States.

“We don’t care what [US President Donald] Trump says, we care about what our people say,” said Maduro, referring to Trump’s promise that he would not accept the vote results.

The Venezuelan president said before the new legislative body begins the process to re-write the constitution, the government will in the first step call on the opposition to engage in dialog.

However, members of the opposition, which has boycotted the vote, reacted with mockery and anger to the count, which they say appears to be only two to three million.

The Sunday vote took place amid a wave of clashes and violence, which led to the deaths of ten people.

Fire erupts as clashes break out during the vote in Caracas on July 30, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Anti-government protesters and security forces engaged in street battles across the country as voting got underway early Sunday morning. Those killed include a soldier and a regional opposition leader, according to prosecutors.

The also say one of the candidates running in the assembly election was also fatally shot by yet unknown gunmen.

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Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino Lopez said none of the deaths that occurred in the setting of Sunday’s vote were “attributable to the Bolivarian National Armed Forces.”

The anti-government protesters took to the streets despite a ban on such gatherings, which took effect on Friday and will continue through Tuesday.

The government had deployed more than 200,000 military officers to maintain order in more than 1,000 voting stations across the country.

The roads to polling stations had been sealed off and only those with registration cards were allowed to pass.

Several attacks happened in the capital city of Caracas, where one remote explosion occurred around noon and injured at least six police officers.

The opposition has urged further protests on Monday.

“We do not recognize this fraudulent process,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

Maduro wants to replace the current legislative body— the National Assembly— with a new institution called the Constituent Assembly. The new assembly will have the power to override an opposition-led congress and re-write the constitution.

The opposition says the new assembly is a power grab by Maduro.

The president, however, argues that it is the only way to restore peace after months of opposition-backed political unrest, which has fueled the country’s economic woes.

The latest casualties brought the death toll from the unrest ongoing since early April to 123, authorities said.

US urges ‘swift actions’

Meanwhile, the US State Department officially condemned the Venezuelan government for holding the vote, and once again promised to “continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela.”

The department called Maduro’s measure as a move to “undermine the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also took to Twitter on Sunday to offer Washington’s official response to the vote.

“Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship," Haley tweeted. "We won't accept an illegitimate govt. The Venezuelan ppl. [people] & democracy will prevail."

The US and its allies, including the UK, Canada, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Panama and Paraguay, have said they would not recognize the vote results.

Washington also blamed Maduro for violence and urged regional and international governments to take strong action against his government.