Venezuelan opposition wraps up 'popular consultation'

Caracas (AFP) –


Venezuela's opposition wrapped up a "popular consultation" on Saturday, in a symbolic poll hailed as "historic" by organizers but which did not prompt the massive mobilization seen during protests last year.

The consultation followed legislative elections in Venezuela on December 6 -- boycotted by the opposition -- which gave President Nicolas Maduro a total grip on power.

According to organizers on Twitter, 6.4 million people participated in the opposition consultation, which began Monday.

They included 3.2 million in person in Venezuela, 844,728 abroad and another 2.4 million online.

They said 87.44 percent of the votes had been counted.

The "participation in the consultation far exceeded the fraud" mounted by the government on December 6, said opposition leader Juan Guaido.

He also denounced the government's "censorship" and the lack of support from the country's television media.

But despite the figures offered by the opposition, this week's poll did not see the massive mobilization seen during 2019 protests.

Guaido declared himself acting president in January that year, accusing Maduro of stealing the 2018 election.

The United States and around 50 other countries have recognized Guaido as president.

The opposition leader, who remains National Assembly speaker until January 5, led the boycott of the December 6 election. Several international powers also slammed the vote as a farce.

This week's consultation asked Venezuelans if they supported "all mechanisms of national and international pressure" in favor of "free presidential and legislative elections."

It also asked if they rejected the December 6 elections.

The consultation began online on Monday and was done in-person on Saturday at nearly 3,000 sites across the country.

In Caracas, AFP journalists reported low turnout.

The opposition alleged "intimidation" and threats by pro-Maduro groups around certain sites planned for the consultation.

In the affluent district of Chacao, traditionally an opposition stronghold, Jose Nelson Castellanos said he was voting to express his rejection of Maduro, in power since 2013 following the death of his mentor, Socialist President Hugo Chavez.

"If we are not happy with the situation in the country, we have to do something," said the 56-year-old.

"I know that a lot of people ... are already skeptical about the results, but something must be done."

Maduro has minimized the importance of the consultation and described Guaido as a US "puppet".

Victory by Maduro's ruling Socialist Party in the December 6 legislative elections gave him control of an expanded 227-seat National Assembly, the only branch of government previously not in his hands.