Venezuelans stay away from polls in protest
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelans stayed away from the polls in massive numbers on Sunday in a show of protest against a vote to grant President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling socialist party virtually unlimited powers in the face of a brutal socio-economic crisis and a grinding battle against its political opponents and groups of increasingly alienated and violent young protesters.
The government swore to continue its push for total political dominance of this once-prosperous OPEC nation, a move likely to trigger U.S. sanctions and new rounds of the street fighting that has killed at least 122 and wounded nearly 2,000 since protests began in April.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office reported seven deaths Sunday in clashes between protesters and police across the country. Seven police officers were wounded when an explosion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to blockade a street in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas.
Across the capital of more than two million people, dozens of polling places were virtually empty, including many that saw hourslong lines of thousands voting to keep the government in power over the last two decades. By contrast, at the Poliedro sports and cultural complex in western Caracas, several thousand people waited about two hours to vote, many drawn from opposition-dominated neighbourhoods where polling places were closed. But at least three dozen other sites visited by The Associated Press had no more than a few hundred voters at any one time, with many virtually empty.
Opposition leaders had called for a boycott of the vote, declaring it rigged for the ruling party, and by late afternoon they were declaring the low turnout a resounding victory.
“It’s very clear to us that the government has suffered a defeat today,” said Julio Borges, president of the opposition-controlled but largely powerless National Assembly. “This vote brings us closer to the government leaving power.”
Maduro called the vote for a constitutional assembly in May after a month of protests against his government, which has overseen Venezuela’s descent into a devastating crisis during its four years in power. Thanks to plunging oil prices and widespread corruption and mismanagement, Venezuela’s inflation and homicide rates are among the world’s highest, and widespread shortages of food and medicine have citizens dying.