Venezuela’s socialist government says a national election has given it a popular mandate to dramatically recast the country’s political system even as condemnations of the process have poured in from nations abroad and the opponents at home, AP reports:
Electoral authorities said more than 8 million people voted Sunday to create a constitutional assembly endowing President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling party with virtually unlimited powers, though independent analysts estimated the real turnout was less than half that figure. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the governor of the central state of Miranda, urged Venezuelans to protest Monday against an assembly that critics fear will effectively create a single-party state.
“The vote means the end of any trace of democratic rule. Maduro’s blatant power grab removes any ambiguity about whether Venezuela is a democracy,” said Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue research center, and a former Latin America program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Opposition leaders call the election a naked power grab meant to keep the Socialist Party in office despite anger over an economic crisis that has spurred malnutrition and left citizens struggling to obtain basic consumer products, Reuters adds:
Allies of the Socialist Party won all 545 seats in the newly elected body, whose full name is the National Constituent Assembly. It will also have the power to dissolve state institutions, such as the opposition-run Congress, and dismiss dissident state officials. Maduro promised that the new assembly would quickly “restructure” the office of the chief prosecutor. The current top prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, was harshly critical of the plan to create the new assembly.
“This is an existential threat to Venezuelan democracy,” said David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group.
As the day rolled on, many countries — some once aligned with Venezuela’s leftist ideology — rejected the result, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Spain, The New York Times reports:
Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, called the vote a “sham election” that would lead to a dictatorship. The United States repeated threats of sanctions against Venezuela’s economy.
“If these other countries don’t recognize Venezuela as a democracy, it will be hard for them to look like a legitimate power,” said Smilde, who mentioned a list of consequences that such isolation could entail, from access to bank loans to straining diplomatic ties with its largest neighbors.
Now the vote has passed, the president’s opponents fear a fresh crackdown. Several opposition mayors and magistrates were arrested last week and the Supreme Court has ordered the detention of many more, adds The FT, which explains How Venezuela’s ‘Bolivarian bourgeoisie’ profits from crisis.
“They won’t round them up in one night because they know they are in the international eye,” said Smilde. “But I do think we will now see a pretty sustained persecution of opposition figures.”