Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro remained defiant Wednesday night, saying a company that has alleged widespread voter fraud was bowing to the pressure of the “gringos and the Brits,” even as the opposition called for more protests.
In televised remarks, Maduro stood by the official count of 8 million-plus votes that were allegedly cast in Sunday’s election that gave his ruling socialist party virtually unlimited power.
He also proclaimed an additional 2 million people would have voted if they hadn’t been blocked by anti-government protesters.
The run-up to vote has been marked by months of clashes between protesters and the government.
"That stupid guy, the president of Smartmatic, pressured to the neck by the gringos and the Brits, said there were 7.5 million," Maduro said in televised remarks. "I think there were 10 million Venezuelans who went out."
Maduro provided no evidence to support his claim, but his remarks were received with resounding applause from about 500 people elected to the assembly.
The president also announced a one-day delay in the assembly's installation, saying it would convene on Friday instead of Thursday as planned, in order to "organize it well in peace and tranquility."
Opposition leaders quickly called for Thursday marches in five different parts of the nation’s capital of Caracas.
Venezuela's shield-bearing protesters
“Let us march because we must demonstrate that the people do not kneel,” Assemblyman Juan Andres Mejia said during a press conference, INFOBAE reported.
Earlier Wednesday, Antonio Mugica, the CEO of Smartmatic, said the National Electoral Council’s voter turnout number was off by at least 1 million, causing further uncertainty about the election's results.
"Even in moments of deep political conflict and division we have been satisfied with the voting process and the count has been completely accurate" previously in Venezuela, Mugica said. "It is, therefore, with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout figures on Sunday, 30 July, for the constituent assembly in Venezuela were tampered with."
The international software company has provided voting technology in Venezuela since 2004.
President Trump condemned Maduro's actions and issued financial sanctions against Venezuela on Monday.
Even before Smartmatic’s statement, there were growing questions regarding the official turnout count. The opposition boycotted the election, so virtually all the candidates were supporters of Maduro’s ruling socialist party.
Leaders of the opposition, which is supported by a sizable portion of the population, argued the turnout number was inflated. And an independent exit poll concluded that less than half the government figure actually cast ballots.
The assembly is empowered to rewrite Venezuela's constitution and Maduro vows he will use it to target his opponents and solidify the socialist system installed by the late President Hugo Chavez.
Maduro called the vote in May after weeks of protests fueled by widespread anger over food shortages, triple-digit inflation and high crime — unrest that continues and has caused at least 125 deaths.
Despite the unrest and plummeting popularity ratings, Maduro appears to have maintained the full support of the country's most important institutions, notably the armed forces.
Top military figures have been given special status and are scattered throughout the government. They also are in charge of strategic areas such as food distribution in which Venezuelans say bribery is widespread.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.