Venezuela:President vows plebiscite on new constitution

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with Vice Presidents at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, on June 1, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

The Venezuelan president vows to hold a referendum on a new constitution he has proposed in an effort to restore calm to the country, which has seen two months of deadly unrest and anti-government protest rallies.

“I shall propose it explicitly: the new constitution will go to a consultative referendum so it is the people who say whether they are in agreement or not with the new, strengthened constitution,” Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday.

The president signed an executive order last month to form a constituent assembly comprised of “some 500 constituents,” who would be elected in a “direct and secret” vote to be given the powers to rewrite the constitution.

Elections for the new constituent assembly will be held in late July, but it is not yet clear when the referendum would be held.

However, critics said the initiative was “anti-democratic.”

Chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega had said creating the assembly, without a plebiscite as happened in 1999 threatened to “eliminate” democracy in the country.

Venezuela’s current constitution was drawn up by Maduro’s predecessor, late Hugo Chaves. Chavez introduced changes to an older constitution when he was sworn in 1999. The changes allowed him to extend a five-year presidential term into a 13-year presidency.

There was no immediate reaction from the opposition, which has been calling for an early presidential election. It has refused to participate in the constituent assembly and called the plan “fraudulent.”

The opposition leaders argue that writing a new constitution would give the president an excuse to put off regional elections scheduled for this year and a presidential election that is to be held in 2018.

The country has been the scene of huge protests and clashes since early April after the Supreme Court stripped the opposition-controlled parliament of its powers.

The decision was later revoked, but protesters continued to take to the streets across the country against the government of Maduro.

At least 62 people have so far been killed in the unrest.

The government says the protests are incited by the Unites Stated to remove President Maduro from power and has accused the opposition of hiring armed gangs. The opposition, too, has said the government has been using armed groups to intimidate them.

By Africafrique and agencies

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