Tensions are near breaking point in Venezuela ahead of a vote on 30 July which the beleaguered president, Nicolás Maduro, says will stabilize the flailing country – home to the world’s largest oil reserves – and which the opposition describes as a bald-faced power grab. Maduro has convened a national vote to elect a Constituent Assembly to redraft the country’s constitution. 364 members of the assembly will be chosen by local polls open to all registered voters. The remaining 181 members will be elected by members of seven social sectors, including pensioners, indigenous groups, businesspeople, peasants and students. The opposition has vowed to boycott the 30 July vote, which means voter turnout will be exclusively pro-government – and likely very low, given that Maduro’s approval rating hovers around 20%.
The current constitution was written by an assembly called in 1999 by Maduro’s predecessor and political father, Hugo Chávez. But Chavez made sure he had popular support for the rewrite, by calling a referendum first. This time around, Maduro ordered the constituent assembly by decree.
On 16 July, a symbolic plebiscite against Maduro’s initiative held by the opposition drew more than seven million people – more than those who voted for Maduro in the 2014 election.
Amid mounting pressure, Maduro vowed last month to hold a popular vote at the end of the process to approve or reject the new constitution. But neither Maduro nor the Venezuelan Electoral Council have specified how long this process will last, or what will happen with the existing legislative power – currently controlled by opposition forces – during the process.