Venezuela op­po­si­tion urges boy­cott of vote to over­haul con­sti­tu­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Venezuela’s an­gry op­po­si­tion is push­ing for a boy­cott of an up­com­ing vote that it dis­misses as a ploy by Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro to cling to power. Ahead of next Sun­day’s elec­tion for a 500-plus mem­ber assem­bly to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion and give the pres­i­dent more power, the op­po­si­tion also plans a gen­eral strike-the sec­ond in weeks-on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day and a big protest march on Fri­day.

It all makes for a dra­matic week in the op­po­si­tion’s dogged drive to un­seat the so­cial­ist Maduro, whom it blames for an acute eco­nomic cri­sis marked by short­ages of food, medicine and such ba­sics as di­a­pers, soap and toi­let pa­per. Four months of al­most daily street protests in the oil-rich OPEC mem­ber have left 103 peo­ple dead.

“Let them lock us all up. The fight must move for­ward,” said Freddy Gue­vara, the deputy speaker of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled congress. “The peo­ple of Venezuela must fuel the gen­eral strike. They must come to Caracas and help us pre­pare for the civic boy­cott,” Gue­vara told a news conference. He in­sisted his sup­port­ers will not re­sort to vi­o­lence.

Leopoldo Lopez, an op­po­si­tion leader moved to house ar­rest from prison ear­lier this month, met Mon­day with for­mer Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Jose Luis Ro­driguez Za­p­a­tero, and warned him of the grave po­ten­tial for con­flict if Maduro in­stalls a Con­stituent Assem­bly, Gue­vara said later on his Twit­ter ac­count. “The de­mand of the peo­ple was com­mu­ni­cated to Za­p­a­tero: that the Con­stituent Assem­bly be with­drawn and that the de­ci­sion of the peo­ple be re­spected,” he said, re­fer­ring to an op­po­si­tion-or­ga­nized referendum July 16 that mas­sively re­jected Maduro’s plans.

Next Sun­day’s vote is sup­posed to be for a 545-seat con­stituent assem­bly that will draw its mem­bers not from po­lit­i­cal par­ties but rather so­cial sec­tors which the op­po­si­tion sees as loyal to Maduro, a for­mer bus driver who was the hand­picked suc­ces­sor of late so­cial­ist fire­brand Hugo Chavez. Maduro on Sun­day urged the op­po­si­tion to re­frain from vi­o­lence, re­spect the vot­ing and let those who wish to cast bal­lots do so.

“I de­mand this of all the op­po­si­tion lead­ers,” Maduro said on state TV. “The US right wing thinks it can give or­ders in Venezuela, but the only one who gives or­ders in Venezuela is the peo­ple,” Maduro said on his tele­vi­sion show. Maduro’s com­ments Sun­day fol­lowed a warn­ing the pres­i­dent had is­sued the pre­vi­ous night about the vote, and how the op­po­si­tion be­haves next week­end. “We will be re­lent­less if they try to gen­er­ate a process of vi­o­lence in or­der to stop that which can­not be stopped,” he said. Also dur­ing his Sun­day TV pro­gram, Maduro said that 33 judges whom the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled congress des­ig­nated Fri­day as a sort of shadow Supreme Court would be ar­rested. One of them had al­ready been de­tained Satur­day. The op­po­si­tion says the cur­rent top court is packed with hard­core Maduro loy­al­ists. Many of its jus­tices were hastily ap­pointed shortly be­fore Maduro’s rul­ing party lost its ma­jor­ity in congress in 2015 leg­isla­tive elec­tions.

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