Voting is under way in the Venezuela opposition alliance’s unofficial plebiscite, as it seeks to challenge the legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution after four months of anti-government protests that have left almost
Venezuelans are being asked if they reject Maduro’s plan for a new assembly to change the constitution, if the armed forces and public officials should obey and defend the current constitution, and whether or not they would back fresh elections for a unity government.
While the poll lacks any real enforcement mechanism and isn’t approved by the National Electoral Council, it’s taking place ahead of a July 30 vote for delegates for a constitutional convention opposed by two-thirds of voters. Critics fear the convention will allow Maduro to consolidate power and take the country further toward Cuba-style authoritarianism. With the opposition boycotting the process to select delegates for the convention, a strong turnout on Sunday could embolden calls from home and abroad for Maduro to withdraw the proposal.
“The really significant thing is that this will give the opposition the platform they need to demand that the government cancel the constituent assembly,” Carlos Romero, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela, said in an interview, adding that he thought as many as 8 million people could turn out to vote on Sunday. “It will also give them the mandate to call for a general strike if needed.”
More than 1,900 polling stations are being operated by opposition volunteers in public plazas, churches and sporting facilities chosen to not interfere with the government’s test-run of the July 30 vote, also planned for Sunday. By 8:30 a.m voting had begun and lines of at least 300 people were forming in front of some of the polling facilities. Voting is scheduled to last until 4:00 p.m. local time.
Venezuelans abroad, traditionally barred from voting in regular elections, will be allowed to
participate in more than 60 countries.
“Turnout of several million would send a very strong signal, with anything exceeding that a remarkable success,” Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Agata Ciesielska said in a report earlier this month, adding that Maduro isn’t likely to back down from his plan.
“The government will probably use intimidation tactics to try to limit turnout, such as shutting down public transportation and blocking access to polling places.”
With fears of fresh violence ahead of the vote, the United Nations has called on Venezuela’s government to allow the process to proceed peacefully.
Tensions have been high ahead of the vote, with the National Union of Press Workers warning that local media has been ordered by the government to limit coverage of the event.
“It is vital that the government takes steps to ensure that the security forces, including the Bolivarian National Guard and the Bolivarian National Police, do not use excessive force against demonstrators,” Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in Geneva.
“We express our hope that Sunday’s consultation will proceed peacefully and in the full respect of the human rights of all.”