CARACAS – More than seven million Venezuelans participated in an unofficial referendum organised by the opposition Sunday and 98% voted to delegitimize the rule of President Nicolas Maduro, according to academics monitoring the vote.
About 7.2 million voters responded to three questions and they overwhelmingly rejected the proposed new super legislative body, urged the military to defend the existing constitution, and supported holding elections before Maduro’s term ends in early 2019.
Maduro dismissed Sunday’s poll as unconstitutional and continued to campaign in support of a July 30 vote to create an assembly that would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.
The symbolic plebiscite was held amid an economic crisis that has left millions of Venezuelans struggling to meet basic needs, and almost daily anti-government protests for several months that have cost the lives of about 100 people.
Gunmen on motorcycles fired on a group of voters in Caracas casting ballots Sunday killing a woman in her 60s and wounding three other people.
— Alberto Rodríguez (@AlbertoRT51) July 16, 2017
The opposition blamed the attack outside a church in one of Caracas’ poorer districts on pro-government “paramilitaries.” An opposition statement said it felt “great pain” over the shooting.
Maduro has said changing the constitution is the only way to pull Venezuela out of its deep economic and social crisis.
“I’m calling on the opposition to return to peace, to respect for the constitution, to sit and talk,” he said Sunday. “Let’s start a new round of talks, of dialogue for peace.”
But the opposition says the assembly will be rigged in Maduro’s favor. It says rewriting the constitution is nothing but a Maduro ploy to turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship and destroy dissent.
One voter who rejects the new constitution summed up the feelings of millions of Venezuelans, saying “there’s no medicine, no food, no security…no separation of powers, no freedom of expression.”
— Andrés Cano (@ANDRES_CANO42) July 17, 2017
The drop in global energy prices along with government corruption has destroyed Venezuela’s oil-rich economy. There are severe shortages of basic goods such as gasoline, flour, sugar, and cooking oil. Supermarket shelves are bare and many Venezuelans cross into neighboring Brazil and Colombia to buy food.
Maduro blames his country’s woes on the United States and warns against intervention by the Organization of American States, saying that would surely bring on civil war.