Venezuela’s socialist government on Monday claimed a popular mandate to dramatically recast the country’s political system even as condemnations of the process poured in from governments around the world and the opposition at home.
The United States added President Nicolas Maduro to a steadily growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials targeted by financial sanctions — escalating a tactic that has so far failed to alter the Venezuelan government’s behavior. The Trump administration backed away from earlier threats to sanction Venezuela’s oil industry — a move that could undermine Maduro’s government but raise U.S. gas prices and deepen Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.
Electoral authorities said more than 8 million people voted Sunday to create a constitutional assembly endowing Maduro’s ruling party with virtually unlimited powers — a figure widely disputed by independent analysts.
The official result would mean the ruling party won more support than it had in any national election since 2013, despite a cratering economy, spiraling inflation, shortages of medicine and malnutrition. Opinion polls showed 85 percent of Venezuelans disapproved of the constitutional assembly and similar numbers disapprove of Maduro’s overall performance.
Independent analysts and opposition leaders estimated the real turnout at less than half the government’s claim in a vote watched by government-allied observers but no internationally recognized poll monitors.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the governor of the central state of Miranda, urged Venezuelans to protest Monday against an assembly that critics fear will effectively create a single-party state.
In a strike at Venezuela’s already flailing economy, U.S. officials said the Trump administration is preparing to levy new sanctions on Venezuela, following through on threats to impose penalties if the country went through with the weekend election.
The officials said the new sanctions could be imposed as early as Monday and will likely target Venezuela’s oil sector, including possibly its state owned petroleum company. One official said an announcement was imminent. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Maduro has said the new assembly will begin to govern within a week. He said he would use the assembly’s powers to bar opposition candidates from running in gubernatorial elections in December unless they sit with his party to negotiate an end to hostilities that have generated four months of protests that have killed at least 120 and wounded nearly 2,000.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office reported 10 deaths in new rounds of clashes Sunday between protesters and police. 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.
Maduro says a new constitution is the only way to end such conflicts.
“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.”
National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout in Sunday’s vote was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people.
The electoral council’s vote counts in the past have been seen as reliable and generally accurate, but the widely mocked announcement appeared certain to escalate the polarization and political conflict paralyzing the country.
“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 Guevara for inciting violence.
Story by The Associated Press