Venezuela opposition urges boycott of vote to overhaul Constitution

Opposition demonstrators clash with riot police during an anti-government protest in Caracas, on July 20, 2017.
Opposition demonstrators clash with riot police during an anti-government protest in Caracas, on July 20, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuela's angry opposition has called 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 soap and toilet paper.

Four months of almost daily street protests in this oil-rich Opec member have left 103 people dead.

"Let them lock us all up. The fight must move forward," said Freddy Guevara, 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.


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 that 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 told state TV.

On Saturday (July 22) night, he issued a warning 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."

Maduro also said on Sunday (July 23) on his weekly TV programme that 33 judges whom the opposition-controlled congress designated on Friday as a sort of shadow Supreme Court will be arrested. One of them was already arrested on Saturday.

The opposition says the current high court is packed with hardcore Maduro loyalists. Many of its justices were in fact hastily appointed shortly before Maduro's ruling party lost its majority in congress in 2015 legislative elections.

The Supreme Court said that in swearing in shadow judges, congress overstepped its bounds and committed treason.

Of the 33 shadow justices, Maduro said: "One by one, one after another, they will all be arrested. All of them will have their assets and accounts frozen, all of it. And no one is going to defend them."