On Sunday, Venezuelans took part in a historic dry run vote for the National Constituent Assembly. Described as the largest one in 18 years, thousands of people across the country took part, chanting and waving signs in support of President Nicolas Maduro and the National Constituent Assembly.
“I have never seen a situation where opening times for a practice run of an election have to be extended,” Jorge Rodriguez, head of the Zamora 200 Campaign Command, said at a press conference.
“It is clear that the majority of Venezuelans want peace, dialogue and a future,” he said, adding, “Today a new machine has been born, one that will push forward a new history, a new dawn.”
Supporters have expressed the belief that changes to the constitution will bring peace and stability to the country.
Voters queued outside the practice polling centers from as early as 5 a.m. to test voting equipment and receive instructions for the upcoming July 30 official vote.
Nearly 1,942 voting machines were deployed in the dry run to help voters learn how to use the machines.
Venezuelans lined up well into the evening to take part in the process.
“I already voted. It was wonderful, quick,” Maria Canela, a resident of the La Candelaria neighborhood in Caracas told AVN on her way out of the Andres Bello High School.
“This is a truly democratic, participatory and civic process. We are peacefully and joyfully taking part in the dry run,” she added. Some 496 polling centers were authorized in all the municipalities of the country, 55 of which functioned as pilot centers, according to the National Electoral Council.
Tibisay Lucena, president of the CNE, said Sunday that the voting exercise was particularly important to ensure that the voters can exercise their right to vote in safe conditions.
She explained that part of the exercise was to identify those localities within the municipalities where the safety of voters could be threatened during the electoral event.
“We continue to evaluate measures that protect the lives and physical safety of voters because there have been expressions of fear about going to vote … We assure people that we will continue to look for measures so that they can come out and vote peacefully on voting day,” Lucena said.
While there were some reports of violence, the dry run vote was largely carried out in a festive mood.
President Nicolas Maduro described the event as the “biggest and most impactful dry run of all dry runs that have taken place in the last 18 years” in a tweet Sunday.
Calling it “a hymn to peace,” Maduro said the people of Venezuela through their extensive participation in the constituent electoral process have shown that the way to solve the country’s problems is through peace and urged the opposition to dialogue instead of violence.
“This has been the biggest and most passionate electoral dry run.”
“Compatriots, let’s give peace a chance, let’s give the constituent an opportunity. I ask that we give the opportunity to the only way we have for peace,” said the head of the state.
“The people want freedom, they have said yes to peace and no to violence, no to traitors, no to the guarimbas,” Maduro said at a press conference.
The dry run vote for the National Constituent Assembly coincided with a symbolic referendum called by the opposition which asked people to vote whether they want a constituent assembly or not; whether they want the armed forces to support the existing constitution and the decisions of the national assembly; and whether they want immediate general elections.
Venezuelans in other parts of the world also participated in the non-binding referendum.
Opposition leaders claimed that more than 7 million Venezuelans participated, 98 percent of whom opposed the assembly, but short of the 11 million they had hoped for in a country of just under 20 million eligible voters.