Despite US threats of “strong and swift economic sanctions” that the WSJ reported overnight could cut off a crucial source of revenue for Venezuela’s financially distressed state oil company, PDVSA, the socialist state’s leader Nicolas Maduro is claiming victory in a vote to create a new “constituent assembly,” a vote that US government officials have labeled a "sham."
The ruling Socialist party's candidates purportedly won all 545 seats in the vote. Venezuela electoral council head Tibisay Lucena said more than 41% of the country’s registered voters participated, a number that is being widely discreditr by outside sources. Per press reports, the assembly will now replace the opposition controlled Congress, which was annulled by the Maduro-allied Supreme Court in March, allowing Maduro to rewrite the country's constitution, cementing his hold on power as his favorability rating with the public falls below 30%.
The U.S., Colombia, Spain, Peru, the EU and Argentina have already said they will not recognize the results of the vote, which was boycotted by the country's opposition parties.
According to Bloomberg, opposition leader Henrique Capriles claimed the real participation in the vote was closer to 15% of registered voters. An unofficial referendum held by the opposition several weeks ago received more than 7.6 million votes against the current regime. Torino Capital’s Francisco Rodriguez said the firm’s exit polls recorded 3.6 million votes. Counting of the ballots was said to begin Sunday night, after the vote was extended by an hour as opposition protests across the country turned violent.
As has become all too common in Venezuela, where daily antigovernment protests are frequently marred by government killings, several fatalities have been recorded as supporters of Maduro’s government headed to the polls, according to Al Jazeera. Ten people, including an election candidate, were killed on the day of the vote as protesters tried to shut down polling stations by erecting barriers in the street. During clashes with masked protesters, soldiers fired into crowds, sometimes with live ammunition, according to AFP.
Opposition activists have promised to continue the daily protests that have seen more than 120 deaths since mid-April as clashes between soldiers and the opposition threaten to explode into a "war in the streets," according to AFP.
Among other, an opposition leader was killed as scuffles broke out between soldiers and masked protesters:
“Shootings at protests killed a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old in the western state of Tachira. A soldier was also shot dead there. The death toll also included a 30-year-old regional leader of a youth opposition party in the northeast town of Cumana and two protesters in the western state of Merida.
Anti-Maduro activists wearing hoods or masks erected barricades on roads and scuffles broke out with security forces who moved in quickly to disperse the demonstrators.
Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman, reporting from the capital Caracas, said that it was a "sad and bloody day in Venezuela". She said that half a dozen protesters with bullet wounds were rushed to neighboring Colombia for treatment.”
The State Department released a statement in response to the "flawed election," saying it would soon "take action" against the "architects of authoritarianism" in Maduro's government, according to Fox.
"The United States stands by the people of Venezuela, and their constitutional representatives, in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy," the State Department said in a statement, according to Reuters.
"We will continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela, including those who participate in the National Constituent Assembly as a result of today’s flawed election.”
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called the vote a “sham" on Twitter.
Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship. We won't accept an illegit govt. The Venezuelan ppl & democracy will prevail.— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) July 30, 2017
The European Union has also condemned the results, according to Reuters.
"We will not recognise this election," said European Parliament head, Antonio Tajani. "It is very clear that the current regime is clinging to power. The will of the people is to change the regime. It is necessary to go to elections now."
Meanwhile, members of the Socialist party are celebrating their "victory," according to Reuters, as Venezuelan media broadcast footage of Maduro voting at a polling station in Caracas.
"The constituent assembly will start its work right away," Diosdado Cabello, deputy head of the Socialist Party, told a post-election rally in Caracas that featured singers, dancers and culminated after midnight in the announcement of the official vote count and a fiery speech by Maduro.
"Good morning Venezuela. We have a constituent assembly!" he shouted. "I ask our countrymen to close ranks so that the assembly can be a place of dialogue."
Agence France Presse published footage of the violence that broke out near one polling station.
The crackdown on protesters began before the vote as the government issued a ban on protesting during the vote.
Meanwhile, traffic across Venezuela’s border with Colombia came to a standstill on Sunday, according to AFP.