Venezuela’s beleaguered government appeared prepared to go ahead with a vote on Sunday that critics at home and abroad have warned will seal the demise of the oil-rich nation’s democracy. At least five people were killed last week after the opposition stepped up its protests against the controversial vote that will elect a 545-member constituent assembly with the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions. A government ban on public demonstrations in the run-up to the election reduced turnouts for nationwide protests called by the opposition, but sporadic looting and clashes between protesters manning barricades of tree branches and barbed wire were reported in several cities on Friday night. Despite the continuing threat of repression, the opposition coalition, known as MUD, called for mass demonstrations in Caracas on Sunday while voting takes place.
“Tomorrow we rebel,” tweeted Freddy Guevara, vice-president of the opposition-held national legislature, whose power to legislate was hamstrung by a supreme court decision in April, prompting the protests.
At least 113 people have been killed, and more than 2,000 wounded, in constant street protests since April, triggering President Nicolás Maduro’s decision to create the assembly.
Maduro has said the assembly will help bring peace to the sharply divided country where, despite its oil wealth, many Venezuelans are going hungry because of food shortages and spiralling inflation. But the opposition said it is little more than a power grab to consolidate the ruling socialist party’s grip. It is boycotting the assembly and demanding general elections instead.