Venezue­lans cast bal­lots in op­po­si­tion vote

NEC refuse to boy­cott the vote

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Polls opened in Venezuela yes­ter­day in an op­po­si­tion-or­ga­nized vote to mea­sure pub­lic sup­port for Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s plan to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion, against a back­drop of wors­en­ing po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence. Dozens of peo­ple were queu­ing in Cara­cas neigh­bor­hoods in­clud­ing Cha­caito and Los Pa­los Grandes be­fore polling sta­tions opened at 7:00 am (1100 GMT), ac­cord­ing to the Demo­cratic Unity Round­table (MUD) op­po­si­tion coali­tion. They are due to close at 4:00 pm (2000 GMT), though they will re­main open as long as peo­ple are in line.

Del­e­gates and vol­un­teers, many dressed in white, manned tents and ta­bles at some 14,300 polling sta­tions na­tion­wide. Maduro sup­port­ers are boy­cotting the vote, and the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil has re­fused to au­tho­rize it, so the out­come is not bind­ing. Op­po­si­tion lead­ers ex­pect as many as 11 mil­lion of peo­ple to cast bal­lots any­way, vot­ing to re­ject the pres­i­dent’s con­tro­ver­sial plan for a sep­a­rate ref­er­en­dum July 30 to elect a con­stituent assem­bly to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion. The op­po­si­tion is boy­cotting the Maduro-backed vote.

They hope a big turnout yes­ter­day will in­crease pres­sure for Maduro’s re­moval from power, clear­ing the way for new pres­i­den­tial elec­tions be­fore his term ends in Jan­uary 2019. The ri­val elec­tions have given rise to in­ter­na­tional wor­ries-voiced by the Catholic Church and UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res-that the chances of bring­ing both sides to­gether for dia­logue have be­come more re­mote. That in turn is stok­ing fears of more protests and run­ning street bat­tles with po­lice, clashes that have cost the lives of nearly 100 peo­ple since the be­gin­ning of April. Maduro por­trayed Sun­day’s vote as merely an “in­ter­nal con­sul­ta­tion by the op­po­si­tion par­ties” with no elec­toral le­git­i­macy. But he also urged Venezue­lans to “par­tic­i­pate peace­fully.” While Maduro is deeply un­pop­u­lar-with 80 per­cent of Venezue­lans crit­i­ciz­ing his rule, ac­cord­ing to the Datanal­i­sis sur­vey firm-he en­joys back­ing from some, mostly poor, parts of the pop­u­la­tion and, most im­por­tantly, from the mil­i­tary. Many Venezue­lans, though, are less fo­cused on the po­lit­i­cal power play than they are on just get­ting by day to day un­der a crush­ing eco­nomic cri­sis that has led to short­ages of food and medicine.

Man­date for change

The op­po­si­tion ac­cuses Maduro of at­tempt­ing to as­sume dic­ta­to­rial pow­ers through the con­sti­tu­tional re­write and other steps. Op­po­si­tion fig­ure Maria Co­rina Machado pre­dicted the vote would not only re­ject the Con­stituent Assem­bly but also “give a man­date for a change of the regime.” She en­vi­sions a postMaduro tran­si­tion in which a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment would as­sume power. In a na­tional ra­dio and TV broad­cast on Fri­day, Maduro called on his fol­low­ers to take part in a ri­val poll ex­er­cise Sun­day that would serve as a dry run for the July 30 con­stituent assem­bly elec­tion.

Un­like the op­po­si­tion-backed ref­er­en­dum, the gov­ern­ment-backed ex­er­cise has been ap­proved by the coun­try’s elec­toral au­thor­i­ties. Maduro has ac­cused for­eign pow­ers of be­ing be­hind the op­po­si­tion’s bid to block the con­stituent assem­bly, and con­tends that in­ter­na­tional press cov­er­age of the plebiscite was aimed at jus­ti­fy­ing for­eign in­ter­ven­tion.

For­eign ob­servers

Ac­cord­ing to Datanal­i­sis, 70 per­cent of Venezue­lans re­ject Maduro’s plan for a con­stituent assem­bly. Five for­mer Latin Amer­i­can pres­i­dents-from Bo­livia, Colom­bia, Mex­ico and two from Costa Rica-were in Venezuela at the op­po­si­tion’s in­vi­ta­tion to act as ob­servers of the vote, along­side elec­toral ex­perts from var­i­ous coun­tries. For­mer Mex­i­can leader Vi­cente Fox said on ar­riv­ing in Cara­cas that the vote could be the “be­gin­ning of the end” of Maduro’s gov­ern­ment. The head of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States, Luis Al­ma­gro, called on Venezue­lans to take part in the vote “to pre­vent the de­fin­i­tive col­lapse” of the coun­try’s in­sti­tu­tions.—AFP

MADRID: Two Venezue­lan res­i­dents in Madrid, show their lit­tle fin­gers stained with ink af­ter vot­ing dur­ing a sym­bolic plebiscite on Pres­i­dent Maduro’s project of a fu­ture con­stituent assem­bly, called by the Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion and held at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.—AFP

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