Venezuela oppn praises poll as blow to Maduro

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion voted en masse Sun­day against Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro and his plan to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion, hop­ing to use this suc­cess to de­mand a change of govern­ment af­ter nearly four months of vi­o­lent protests. Deadly vi­o­lence re­turned as a 61-year-old woman was killed and three other peo­ple wounded when gun­men on mo­tor­cy­cles opened fire on peo­ple lined up to vote in Ca­tia, a work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood in the cap­i­tal, pros­e­cu­tors said.

Nearly 7.2 mil­lion Venezue­lans-lower than the pro­jected 10.5 mil­lion out of 19 mil­lion pos­si­ble vot­ers-cast bal­lots in the sym­bolic elec­tion against Maduro, univer­sity guar­an­tors said with 95 per­cent of votes counted. Venezuela “sent a clear mes­sage to the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive and the world,” an­nounced Cen­tral Univer­sity of Venezuela pres­i­dent Ce­cilia Gar­cia Arocha, not­ing that 6,492,381 voted in the coun­try and 693,789 abroad. Gar­cia said fi­nal re­sults would be re­leased Mon­day.

“We do not want to be Cuba, we do not want to be a coun­try without free­dom,” said Julio Borges, leader of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled par­lia­ment. “To­day, Venezuela said yes to a dig­ni­fied coun­try, a demo­cratic coun­try, a coun­try where peo­ple do not have to go be­cause they have no fu­ture. The man­date the peo­ple have given us is clear.”

The woman’s death brought to 96 the num­ber of peo­ple who have died in nearly four months of protests and po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion in Venezuela’s streets. The op­po­si­tion blamed the at­tack on “para­mil­i­tary groups” linked to the govern­ment. The cen­tral ques­tion be­fore vot­ers con­cerned Maduro’s in­ten­tion to hold an elec­tion on July 30 to choose 545 mem­bers of a cit­i­zens’ body called the “Con­stituent Assem­bly” that would redo the con­sti­tu­tion. A dry run of that elec­tion was also held Sun­day, to de­tract from the op­po­si­tion vote which the govern­ment branded “il­le­gal.” Maduro told the op­po­si­tion to “not go crazy” with the re­sults of its vote, though the head of the na­tional elec­toral coun­cil told the op­po­si­tion that the re­sult would have “no le­gal con­se­quence.”

Mean­while, Venezue­lan For­eign Min­is­ter Sa­muel Mon­cada said on VTV govern­ment tele­vi­sion that he was declar­ing for­mer Mex­i­can pres­i­dent Vi­cente Fox per­sona non grata and ban­ning him from the coun­try for con­spir­ing to in­sti­gate vi­o­lence and for­eign in­ter­ven­tion. Mon­cada did not pro­vide ev­i­dence to back his claims. Fox, who left Venezuela late Sun­day, had trav­eled to the coun­try with sev­eral other Latin Amer­i­can exlead­ers in a show of sup­port for the op­po­si­tion’s ref­er­en­dum. The Mex­i­can govern­ment, crit­i­cal of Maduro, called for the re­sults of the op­po­si­tion con­sul­ta­tion to lead to a “ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion” to help “re­store” democ­racy.

Or­di­nary Venezue­lans blam­ing food and medicine short­ages on Maduro’s poli­cies, how­ever, seized on the vote as a way of telling the pres­i­dent to leave of­fice. Peo­ple took to Cara­cas’ streets af­ter the vote shout­ing “this govern­ment is fall­ing” as mo­torists honked their horns in cel­e­bra­tion. Dur­ing bal­lot­ing, one voter, 49-year-old Tibisay Men­dez, told AFP that Maduro and his of­fi­cials “only want to hold on to power-We are vot­ing to get them out.” Many wore white and the col­ors of the na­tional flag as they cast their votes. Govern­ment sup­port­er­sand pub­lic work­ers wor­ried about keep­ing their jobs-stayed away. Sev­eral Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries and the Catholic Church have crit­i­cized Maduro’s move to re­draft the con­sti­tu­tion.

The op­po­si­tion says it is a bid by Maduro to con­cen­trate dic­ta­to­rial pre­rog­a­tives and stay on de­spite his deep un­pop­u­lar­ity, put at 80 per­cent by Datanal­i­sis. Julio Borges, leader of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture in Venezuela, said the vote was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment “in this fight to win back democ­racy for Venezuela.”

The po­lit­i­cal dead­lock prom­ises lit­tle respite for those suf­fer­ing in the list­ing econ­omy of the oil-rich South Amer­i­can na­tion. The op­po­si­tion ac­cuses Maduro of driv­ing the coun­try into bankruptcy, and of us­ing the Con­stituent Assem­bly to en­tirely side­line the leg­is­la­ture. The pres­i­dent, in turn, says the op­po­si­tion is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the “im­pe­ri­al­ist” United States to top­ple his govern­ment. He says his pro­posed Con­stituent Assem­bly is “the only path” to peace and eco­nomic re­cov­ery, while re­ly­ing heav­ily on the still-loyal mil­i­tary to as­sert his author­ity. But some cracks are ap­pear­ing in his camp. — AFP


CARA­CAS: Julio Borges (C), leader of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled par­lia­ment, speaks fol­low­ing an op­po­si­tion-or­ga­nized vote to mea­sure pub­lic sup­port for Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s plan to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion.

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