Amid a deep political and economic crisis, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is pushing ahead with plans to elect a National Constituent Assembly on July 30 that will rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution. Critics say the body is illegitimate and fear it will be used to disband congress, cancel elections and allow Maduro and his socialist allies to cling to power. On Sunday, the opposition held an informal referendum on the government’s plan. Here’s a closer look at what is happening in the South American nation.
What happened? Organizers say more than 7.6 million Venezuelans went to the polls Sunday to reject the government’s plans to rewrite the constitution. But the referendum wasn’t sanctioned by the government and the administration insists it is merely symbolic.
How significant was the turnout? Considering that Sunday’s vote was largely a grass-roots effort, the turnout was large. An estimated 6.4 million of the voters who turned out (98 percent) rejected the government’s plans. By contrast, Maduro won the presidency in 2013 with 7.6 million votes.
How is the government reacting? Maduro and his supporters, without offering proof, are accusing the opposition of exaggerating the turnout. Even so, they say Sunday’s vote was “meaningless” and have vowed to push forward with plans to elect more than 500 constituent delegates on July 30 who will form the National Constituent Assembly. Maduro says the new body, which will have the power to rewrite the constitution, is “the only solution” to bring peace to the troubled country.
Why are people opposed to the assembly? Critics say the way delegates are being elected will guarantee that the body will be packed with ruling-party faithful. The assembly will have sweeping powers to delay, or cancel, upcoming elections. In addition, the assembly will supersede the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which is seen as one of the last vestiges of democracy in the country.
What’s next for the opposition? After more than 100 days of protests that have left almost 100 dead, the opposition says it has no choice but to maintain the pressure on the streets. They’re calling for a national strike on Thursday.
What can the international community do? So far, Venezuela’s neighbors have been unable to forge a solution or force the two sides back to the bargaining table. According to media reports, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos may be lobbying Venezuela’s staunch ally, Cuba, to help develop a regional solution. On Monday, the White House said it would impose “strong and swift economic actions” if the government goes through with the July 30 vote.
Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss