The Guyanese government is relieved after a referendum, which was meant to support Venezuela’s claim to a large portion of their territory, seemed to have failed.
Nicolás Maduro had intended to use his country’s longstanding assertion of ownership over the disputed region of Essequibo as a means of rallying public backing. However, on Sunday, voting stations throughout the country were mostly quiet as the majority of voters ignored the matter.
Many analysts have accused the Venezuelan government of manipulating the results due to the low turnout.
On Monday, Robert Presaud, the foreign secretary of Guyana, stated that the citizens of Venezuela have delivered a powerful message to Maduro. He expressed his hope that Maduro has acknowledged and understood their message.
Government sources, who requested anonymity, informed the Guardian that Guyanese officials refrained from making direct statements regarding the results, but expressed their relief over the unexpectedly low turnout.
Since gaining independence from Spain in 1811, Venezuela has asserted ownership of the Essequibo region, which is rich in oil. The country claims that the borders were unjustly determined through international conspiracy.
The disagreement is currently under examination in the international court of justice, but Maduro has been appealing for the Venezuelan citizens to support the government through TikTok and national television in order to handle the situation independently.
On Sunday, five inquiries were made regarding Venezuela’s stance on disregarding The Hague’s international arbitrators, granting Venezuelan citizenship to the English-speaking residents of Essequibo, and transforming the 160,000 sq km territory into a new state within Venezuela.
In the past few weeks, both Guyana and Venezuela have ramped up their military presence along their borders due to escalating tensions between the two countries. Additionally, Brazil deployed troops to its jungle border this past weekend amid concerns that the situation could lead to military conflict.
According to national and international media, voting stations were mostly unoccupied throughout the country.
According to Phil Gunson, an analyst at an international crisis group, there have been no confirmed reports of lines anywhere in the country. He observed that Caracas appeared to be having a regular Sunday. This was a significant failure for Maduro.
Despite this, Maduro wasted no time in celebrating the outcome of the vote. 95% of those who voted supported the government’s five questions, leading to a perceived victory.
“Il has been a complete triumph for our nation, for our democratic system,” said Maduro to his supporters in Caracas on Sunday night, commending the “significantly high level of participation.”
The government of Venezuela has reported that over 10.5 million individuals participated in the referendum. This number surpasses the amount of votes received by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, during his more popular reelection in 2012.
The electoral authority of Venezuela announced that the voting period on Sunday evening has been prolonged due to a significant turnout.
The statistics released by the government have faced extensive examination, yet analysts argue that they do not align with the observations at polling locations.
Gunson stated that while it has not been explicitly admitted, it is clear that they manipulated the results.
The electoral authority of Venezuela allegedly shared and then removed an image showing a table with approximately 2 million votes for each of the five questions. This implies that they counted the total number of votes instead of individual voters in an attempt to control the negative impact on public perception.
The government of Venezuela has not released any specific or local results, causing skepticism about their accuracy. “If the government truly believes that this was a huge success, they should have no trouble sharing a breakdown of the votes,” stated Geoff Ramsey, a senior member of the Atlantic Council.
Maduro is facing a major public relations disaster. Despite their intense efforts to promote their message for months, turnout has been significantly lower than anticipated.
Information gathered by Guyana and its partners indicates that the reported number of people who participated was less than 1.5 million, which is less than one-tenth of the total population. A source with ties to the Guyanese government referred to this tactic as “rigonomics”.
The source believes that Maduro made a huge miscalculation.
According to Hugh Todd, the foreign minister of Guyana, the country is maintaining a state of high readiness due to the uncertain behavior of the president of Venezuela.
According to Todd, it appears that he is functioning independently and authoritarian-like, making decisions for the people rather than listening to their needs.
He stated that since ninety-five percent of people voted yes, he is able to claim a victory, but they are not overly excited. They remain cautious.
The Essequibo is home to only 120,000 of Guyana’s 800,000 people but the vast swath of jungle is rich in natural resources including copper and gold.
Maduro’s rhetoric over the region has become more bellicose since massive oil reserves were discovered in 2015 but the weekend’s plebiscite is seen foremost as a way to gauge how many people he can mobilise in presidential elections expected for next year.
María Corina Machado, the candidate from the opposition party, is expected to win against Maduro in a fair election. The US has warned that they will reinstate sanctions if Maduro does not allow for a fair election.
The Essequibo is the sole concern that brings together Venezuelans from all political backgrounds, according to Gunson. However, the recent vote indicates that people are more concerned with pressing matters like the economic crisis, which has forced over 7 million individuals to leave the nation.
If Maduro cannot gather support from the people using Venezuela’s claim to the Essequibo as a rallying point, there are limited alternatives remaining aside from manipulating the competition.
“He noted that this creates a significant void where there was once a semblance of a plan. What will their next move be? With an unpopular president on track for potential failure in an election that even remotely resembles fairness, the situation looks dire.”