By Nestor Rojas Mavares (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Venezuelans are called on Sunday to elect the 545 members of the Constituent Assembly convened by President Nicolas Maduro, amid a wave of opposition protests that seek to stop the process they consider fraudulent.
The electoral roll consists of 19.4 million Venezuelans, but the opposition called on people not to participate and will hold demonstrations.
The Constituent Assembly that Maduro wants to install be will be all-powerful and will have as its purpose to reform the constituted State powers. Its main target will be the National Assembly (Congress), whose opposition majority leads the protests against the Government.
The voters will choose 364 territorial members, including one for each municipality of the country, as well as 181 sectoral, among Government supporters classified as workers, students and retirees.
Maduro maintains that the Constituent Assembly is to pacify the country, hit hard by almost four months of protests that have left more than a hundred dead. He sees it as a chance to increase penalties for crimes, which could include dissent, dissolve the National Assembly and create what he calls a post-oil economic model.
“We are heading to a new era, a period that will have the Venezuelan people as protagonists again,” Maduro said and insisted that the Constituent Assembly is the “only” way to peace in the country.
A key element that has not been clarified is the duration of the Constituent Assembly and if its deliberations will suspend the elections of governors, scheduled for December 10, and presidential elections, by the end of 2018.
The opposition warned that the realization of the December regional elections is in doubt, because the Constituent Assembly, as super-power, could suspend them and change them to another date.
The opposition also warned that the Assembly could modify the executive’s duration in office, giving Maduro an extension of power. His current term ends in January 2019.
The head of the Constituent Assembly’s presidential commission, education minister Elias Jaua, predicted that the functions of the Assembly would be around one year.
Nicmer Evans, a dissident political analyst from within those who had supported Hugo Chavez, told dpa that it would be difficult for Maduro to “set himself up as a dictator with a constituent assembly elected by (an estimated) 10 percent of the population who might vote on July 30.”
“There has been no dictator in history without some legitimacy. There are no international observers or witnesses of the opposition in this election, a veritable insanity, and there is an exacerbation of violence in the country. It’s a process that favors the opposition, “he said.
In an effort to stop the election of the Constituent Assembly, the opposition called a series of protests in recent days, with strikes and blockades of main roads, which has led to the intensification of repression by the security forces.
In the national strike on Wednesday and Thursday the balance was seven dead in different parts of the country, bringing to 112 the number of fatalities since the beginning of the protests this past April.
On Friday another protest began with blockades of roads, which paralyzed large areas of eastern Caracas. In addition, in the region of Tachira, in the Venezuelan Andes, protesters managed to assault polling stations and burn voting materials.
The president of the National Electoral Council (CEN), Tibisay Lucena, criticized that the opposition is impeding the vote of the Venezuelans, reason why the CEN decided to make more flexible the mechanisms for the right of suffrage. In this regard, she said that voters can vote at any polling station in their municipality.
“Faced with these undemocratic threats, the electoral power takes the following measure to ensure the effective exercise of voting: All voters may vote in any polling place in the municipality in which they are registered, this includes the 335 municipalities of the national territory and 100 percent of the citizens entitled to vote in these elections,” said Lucena.
The opposition called on its followers to focus Sunday on gathering at emblematic sites of the different cities, in order to compare participation in polling stations and opposition mobilization.
Opposition leader, former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, said the election of tomorrow will be no more than an “internal consultation” of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
“On Sunday, there will be two photographs: I invite the democratic people who want change to take to the streets, dressed in white with our tricolor caps so that the government does not use our image in their favor,” he said.