Venezuela’s Opposition Referendum Overwhelmingly Rejects Maduro’s Quest to Change Constitution

President of the National Assembly Deputy Julio Borges (C) accompanied by deputies and leaders of the Unity Table (MUD) speaks during a conference in Caracas, Venezuela, 16 July 2017. Results of the unofficial referendum organized by Venezuela's opposition showed that 98.4 percent of the voters reject the formation of the National Constituent Assembly to change the Constitution. Photo: Critstian Hernandez/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • 98% of voters in an opposition referendum in Venezuela have declared themselves against the plans of President Maduro to elect a ‘Constituent Assembly’, and adopt a new constitution.
  • Over 7 million out of 19.5 million eligible voters have participated in the opposition poll, almost the number of 7.7 million voters who backed the opposition in the last presidential elections.
  • They have also voted to call upon the military to defend Venezuela’s constitution.
  • Maduro has slammed the opposition vote as meaningless and illegitimate.
  • Maduro’s government has simultaneously held a ‘dry run’ vote to practice the upcoming July 30 referendum.
  • Violence persists across Venezuela, having caused 115 casualties so far.

Amid ongoing turmoil, an overwhelming majority of those who voted in an unofficial referendum organized by Venezuela’s opposition has rejected the motion of leftist President Nicolas Maduro to change the constitution and supplant the opposition-leadning Parliament with a “Constituent Assembly”.

The violent antigovernment protests in Venezuela, which have lasted for 106 days now, have already claimed 115 lives, and have injured thousands, while thousands of other protesters have been arrested by the police.

In early July, armed pro-government militias supporting Venezuela’s controversial President Nicolas Maduro stormed the country’s Parliament, and assaulted several opposition deputies amid the ongoing anti-government protests in the South American country.

A week earlier Oscar Perez, a police officer, stole a helicopter and launched an attack against Venezuela’s pro-government Supreme Court and the Interior Ministry in Caracas.

Protesters across Venezuela took to the streets on April 1 to demand the resignation of President Maduro, the successor of late leader Hugo Chavez and his leftist ideology, Chavism (Chavismo), after the country’s courts tried to strengthen the regime even further.

The anti-government protests in Venezuela’s capital Caracas and a number of major cities have erupted as the oil-rich South American country has been sinking into a deeper and deeper economic crisis, resulting from low oil prices, political mismanagement, and top-level corruption.

Over the past couple of years the escalating crises in what once was the richest South American country has led to steep deterioration of public health with infectious diseases such as malaria creeping back.

Venezuela’s President Maduro calls the protesters “terrorists” and insists the demonstrations are a cover for a coup plot orchestrated by the US.

The Protesters’ motivation was boosted at the beginning of May when Maduro announced he would call up a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

Venezuelans living in Costa Rica take part in an unofficial referendum launched by the Venezuelan opposition in San Jose, Costa Rica, 16 July 2017. Photo: Jeffrey Arguedas/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

‘Defend the Constitution’ from Maduro

Voters in Venezuela’s opposition referendum, which has no legal status, have rejected Maduro’s plans for a new Constituent Assembly with the power to scrap the National Assembly and re-write the constitution, BBC News reported citing academics monitoring the poll.

More than seven million voters took part in the unofficial referendum in Venezuela on Sunday, out of a total of 19.5 million eligible voters.

The turnout is slightly smaller than the 7.7 million people who voted for opposition candidates at the 2015 parliamentary elections.

The President of the Central University of Venezuela, Cecilia García Arocha, said 6,492,381 people voted within the country and another 693,789 at polling stations abroad.

Voting yes or no to three questions, 98% rejected the new assembly proposed by President Maduro and backed a call for elections before his term of office ends in 2019. They also voted for the armed forces to defend the current constitution.

Venezuela’s government is set to hold an official vote on July 30 for the new constituent assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.

According to the opposition, the formation of the new assembly could be herald dictatorship.

Sunday’s unofficial poll was held in improvised polling across Venezuela and in more than 100 countries around the world.

The opposition plans to burn ballot papers from the informal poll so those who voted against the government cannot be identified and victimized.

Venezuela’s highly controversial President Nicolas Maduro has slammed the opposition referendum.

“They have convened an internal consultation with the opposition parties, with their own mechanisms, without electoral rulebooks, without prior verification, without further verification. As if they are autonomous and decide on their own,” he said.

A view of confrontations between pro and anti-government demonstrators as members of the police patrol the area during an unofficial referendum organized by the opposition in Caracas, Venezuela, 16 July 2017. The Venezuelan public prosecutor confirmed a woman was fatally shot and several others were wounded while they waited in line to vote in the unofficial referendum. Photo: Nathalie Sayago/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

‘Dry Run’

On the same day as the unofficial referendum, Maduro’s government held a “trial run” for the July 30 vote, which it described as a success.

The dry run for the Venezuela National Constituent Assembly has received an unexpectedly high turnout, reported Telesur, a state-sponsored pro-government news outlet.

“I have never seen a situation where opening times for a practice run of an election have to be extended,” said Hector Rodriguez, head of the Zamora constituent campaign, at a press conference.

Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council, CNE, said on Sunday that the voting exercise was particularly important to ensure that the voters can exercise their right to vote in safe conditions.

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 on 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.

More Violence

Amid the voting in the opposition referendum and Maduro’s “dry run” vote, a nurse was shot dead while queuing to vote in the capital, Caracas.

Men on motorbikes opened fire, killing 61-year-old Xiomara Soledad Scott, and wounding three others.

The opposition blamed a “paramilitary” gang for the shooting, which prosecutors said they would investigate.

Separately, journalist Luis Olavarrieta was kidnapped, robbed and beaten by what he said was a a group of government supporters, but managed to escape.

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