Venezuela Officials Vow Not to Let Fire Prevent Elections

Venezuelan officials are vowing not to let a fire that destroyed thousands of voting machines deter their quest to hold legislative elections this year that could help President Nicolas Maduro consolidate his power.
    
Tibisay Lucena, president of the government-stacked National Electoral Council, said the fire that tore through a warehouse Saturday, obliterating 49,323 voting machines and nearly 50,000 fingerprint readers, would not prevent a planned vote to replace lawmakers in the last opposition-controlled federal institution.
    
“If there are groups who think that they’re going to stop electoral processes, constitutionally established, they are very wrong,” she said Sunday.
    
Maduro has been vowing to quickly convoke legislative elections for several months, threatening to hold them earlier than usual. The election is constitutionally scheduled to take place in 2020, though it usually is held at the end of the year. Opposition leaders have not yet stated whether they will participate.
    
The opposition has boycotted other recent elections, refusing to participate in an election run by the current electoral body, which is dominated by pro-Maduro officials. Authorities have barred a number of high-profile opposition leaders from running and are accused of manipulating the vote in which Maduro’ was reelected in 2018.
    
Opposition leaders have expressed concern about running in a legislative vote without a reformed National Electoral Council that would allow what they consider a free and fair election, though analysts also warn that if they do not participate, Maduro allies could assume control of the opposition’s only remaining national platform in the government.
    
Key opposition members did not respond to news of the fire, instead pushing forward in calling for a planned march on Tuesday.
    
Lucena said two prosecutors have been assigned to investigate the fire, which took place at a warehouse in the state of Miranda, not far from the capital.
    
“The CNE wants to know the truth: What was the origin of the fire and how did it spread so rapidly?” she said in a state broadcast. “No hypothesis is being discarded.”
    
First responders were able to rescue only 562 voting machines and 724 fingerprint readers.
   
 “Very little could be recovered,” Lucena said. “It was a great effort, but the fire was greater.”

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