Venezuelans flocks to vote against President Maduro

Millions of Venezuelans signalled their disapproval of President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to hold a constituent assembly by casting ballots on Sunday

Hundreds of Venezuelans casted their vote
Hundreds of Venezuelans casted their vote

Energised by a massive vote against President Nicolas Maduro in an unofficial plebiscite, Venezuela's opposition mulled on Monday how to escalate protests and block a new congress it fears may enshrine Socialist Party hegemony.

After months of street rallies that have led to nearly 100 deaths, the Democratic Unity coalition brought millions onto the streets on Sunday for an informal referendum intended to de-legitimise the country’s leader.

More than 98 percent of voters sided with the opposition in answering three yes-or-no questions drafted with the aim of weakening Maduro’s legitimacy days before his constituent assembly is expected to convene.

Voters were asked whether they rejected the effort to hold a constituent assembly that has not been approved by voters; whether they wanted the country’s armed forces to uphold the current Constitution and the decisions of the opposition-run National Assembly; and whether they wanted free elections to pick a new “national unity government.”

Opponents see the assembly as a power grab by an increasingly unpopular leader and fear he may use it to do away with democratic elections.

Sunday’s exercise, known as a popular consultation, was organised by a slate of opposition parties that dominate Venezuela’s National Assembly.

Organisers had hoped that a large turnout and a lopsided result would widen rifts within the governing party and deepen the government’s international isolation, undermining Maduro’s plan to appoint an assembly of handpicked supporters to draft a new Constitution.

Shortly before midnight, a group of Venezuelan university administrators tasked with overseeing the vote count said that more than 7,186,000 ballots had been cast.

The Venezuelan Constitution passed under Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, in 1999 includes a provision authorising popular consultations as a means of safeguarding “people’s exercise of their sovereignty.” Venezuela’s election commission did not play a role in Sunday’s vote, which was run by volunteers. The opposition, citing the Constitution, says the vote is binding.

Yet, with Venezuelan officials dismissing the vote as "illegal" and electorally irrelevant, defiance was high among those frustrated with the drawn-out crisis rocking Venezuela.

Tensions have soared across Venezuela amid widespread food and medicine shortages and spiralling inflation that the government routinely plays down.

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