After months of devastating shortages, deadly protests and mounting chaos, many a Venezuelan has wished President Nicolas Maduro never existed. The computer system handling Sunday’s controversial elections to his powerful new constitution re-writing body appears to feel the same way.
When Maduro scanned his ID card as he cast his ballot –the first Venezuelan to do so — the screen spit out the words, “This person does not exist or the ID was cancelled.”
The message, displayed on the screen of a poll worker’s cell phone, was captured by TV cameras and soon went viral online. The ID card in question is the “fatherland card” introduced by Maduro’s socialist government to buy subsidised food and access other social programs.
As Maduro delivered a speech at the polling station, he paused to theatrically whip out his card.
“Let’s check my fatherland card so it will be permanently registered that I came to vote, and so my fatherland card will be engraved with it for life: that I voted the historic day of the constituent assembly,” he said.
He then presented his card’s bar code to be read with a scanner.
“Did it read it?” he asked the young poll worker.
“Yes, it did,” she said, without appearing to show him the message.
Maduro’s opponents condemn the ID card as a means of social control that rewards government supporters with handouts and ensures state employees vote in elections such as yesterday’s.
But opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara joked on Twitter that maybe his side had overestimated the government’s capacity for Orwellian control.
“The system doesn’t work. If you’re a public employee, they don’t know whether you voted or not,” he wrote. Election day was no laughing matter, however, with at least nine people killed in violence around the vote. More than 100 people have died in four months of protests against Maduro’s government.
The mustachioed president is trying to strengthen his hand by forming a 545-member body to draft a new constitution amid a crushing economic and political crisis.