Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shocked many of his countrymen on Monday by calling for a constitutional assembly in a move similar to one his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez used almost 20 years ago. But there is a key difference: while Chavez enjoyed broad popularity following his 1998 election, Maduro faces slim odds at the ballot box and critics say he is calling the assembly precisely to avoid or delay free elections. After he took office in 1999, Chavez led a campaign to create an assembly that rewrote the constitution, letting him name allies to crucial posts such as the Supreme Court. He thus consolidated an already strong hand in institutional disputes with adversaries during his 14-year rule.
Maduro, by contrast, has seen his political capital sapped by triple-digit inflation and years of chronic shortages of food and consumer goods. Public anger has fueled near-daily opposition protests since early April against the 54-year-old president, who has been in office since 2013.
His preliminary plan would involve electing only around half the constitutional delegates. He said the remainder would be chosen by specific social movements such as student groups, state-backed community councils or workers unions.
Adversaries call it a rigged proceeding meant to skirt a popular election by limiting suffrage, which legal experts criticize as unconstitutional.