OP­PO­SI­TION GEARS UP FOR RALLY

They claim Pres­i­dent Maduro’s plan to re­write con­sti­tu­tion a ploy to de­lay polls

New Straits Times - - World -

VENEZUELA’S angry op­po­si­tion was set to hold a huge protest rally yes­ter­day against un­pop­u­lar Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s pro­posal to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion, dis­miss­ing it as a ploy to avoid hold­ing elec­tions and cling to power.

In an oil-rich coun­try sad­dled with short­ages of food, medicine and such basics as soap and toi­let pa­per, a steady wave of protests against the so­cial­ist Maduro and his gov­ern­ment has been on for more than a month.

And, the death toll from vi­o­lence at the ral­lies rose to 29 on Tues­day, with word from the gov­ern­ment that a young man it said had been loot­ing was shot by a shop­keeper in the north­ern city of Valencia.

Bar­ri­cades of rub­bish and bins blocked streets in Venezuela on Tues­day in protests that seem likely to in­ten­sify after Maduro an­nounced his idea of elect­ing a con­stituent assem­bly to write a new con­sti­tu­tion.

That body would not in­clude po­lit­i­cal par­ties with seats in congress but rather rep­re­sen­ta­tives of so­cial sec­tors, such as work­ers, farm­ers and other com­mu­ni­ties.

His plan, an­nounced on Monday, has in­flamed the op­po­si­tion, which is call­ing for even bigger demon­stra­tions to de­mand elec­tions. Yes­ter­day’s rally was be­ing de­scribed as a “mega protest”.

“The idea is not to con­sult with the peo­ple, but rather for the rul­ing party it­self to choose so as to have a tai­lor-made con­sti­tu­tion. We have to up the pres­sure in the streets,” said Freddy Gue­vara, deputy speaker of the op­po­si­tion con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly.

The Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion said the gam­bit fur­ther weak­ened the chances of hold­ing a vote to re­move Maduro, whom they blamed for the eco­nomic cri­sis that had sparked the food short­ages and ri­ot­ing.

A pres­i­den­tial election is sup­posed to be held next year. The op­po­si­tion has been push­ing for months to oust Maduro from power through a re­call vote. But, that ef­fort stalled.

Polls showed that more than 70 per cent of peo­ple in­ter­viewed did not sup­port Maduro, a for­mer bus driver hand-picked by the late Hugo Chavez to suc­ceed him.

The idea of rewrit­ing the con­sti­tu­tion, said Diego Moya-Cam­pos of the Lon­don-based risk con­sul­tancy IHS Markit, “is a des­per­ate mea­sure by a gov­ern­ment that knows it can­not call elec­tions be­cause it is go­ing to lose and re­sorts to po­lar­i­sa­tion”.

Maduro said the process to bring in a new con­sti­tu­tion was nec­es­sary to fend off what he de­scribed as an at­tempted for­eign­backed “coup” against him.

He has vowed to de­fend the so­cial­ist “rev­o­lu­tion” launched by Chavez, who over­saw the writ­ing of the cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion. Chavez died in 2013. An­a­lysts said the so­cial­ist pres­i­dent was play­ing look­ing to de­lay the pres­i­den­tial election.

“Maduro is gain­ing time at the ex­pense of ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing by stomp­ing on the roadmap left by Chavez him­self,” said one so­cial­ist-lean­ing an­a­lyst, Nicmer Evans.

“This con­stituent assem­bly Maduro wants is a clear be­trayal of Chavez and the peo­ple.”

Fresh vi­o­lence erupted on Tues­day as armed men clashed with riot po­lice, who fired tear gas here, where hun­dreds of peo­ple blocked streets.

State om­buds­man Tarek Wil­liam Saab said on Twit­ter that masked men threw Molo­tov cock­tails at a build­ing hous­ing a branch of his de­part­ment in Valencia.

The United States re­it­er­ated its con­cerns for democ­racy in Venezuela after Maduro’s an­nounce­ment.

“We view it as a step back­wards,” said top State De­part­ment of­fi­cial Michael Fitz­patrick.

The past month of protests has shut down many schools and busi­nesses.

The city’s once-vi­brant nightlife has died due to fears of vi­o­lence and loot­ing.

AP PIC

A woman hold­ing a Venezue­lan flag on her ch­est as she joins a road­block in Cara­cas, Venezuela, on Tues­day.

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