Referendum in Venezuela: A Two-edged Sword

The opposition seeks to put pressure on the government and show cohesion
Photo: Jorge Serratos/EL UNIVERSAL
15/07/2017
16:54
José Meléndez / corresponsal
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After 107 days of deadly and bloody protests and clashes with troops of a regime which has progressively assumed maximum power in Venezuela since 1999, the Venezuelan political opposition will undergo a crucial test today in order to present itself as a seamless, yet pluralist bloc, with the national referendum that will try to put a massive, unquestionable, and overwhelming brake to the Chavista plan to build a totalitarian socialist system.

This year's consultation will be the main gathering in the voting polls since anti-Chavism defeated in December 2015 the Chavism in legislative elections and assumed in January 2016 control of the National Assembly.

Despite its internal ruptures, the opposition will have today the challenge of appearing as a strong structure capable of preventing the Chavista plans.

"The referendum is essentially a civil action," said Venezuelan Luis Cedeño, executive director of Paz Activa, a non-state organization in Caracas that surveys security. "Although not legally binding, it will legitimize the demands of democracy that the Venezuelan people manifest in the protests,” Cedeño told EL UNIVERSAL.

The referendum will take place inside and outside Venezuela and was designed by anti-chavism as one of its most important acts of disobedience since Hugo Chávez installed the Bolivarian regime 18 years, 5 months and 14 days ago. This day will be the reply to the official initiative, announced on May 1, to call for a Constituent Assembly, elaborated to President Nicolás Maduro and the leaders of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela's taste, blocking democratic, tolerant, and multi-party coexistence.

Questionnaire

The referendum, which will not have any real institutional effect, will be open from 07:00 to 16:00 local time. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) reported that people over 18 years can vote and that 1.766 voting boards and 14.800 tables, plus some 200 sites abroad will be open to the public. The Venezuelans will sign a document of adhesion to constitutional articles and answer yes or no to three questions:

- Do you reject and disregard the implementation of a constituent national assembly proposed by Nicolás Maduro without the prior approval of the Venezuelan people?

- Do you demand the Bolivarian National Armed Forces to obey and defend the 1999 Constitution and support the decisions of the National Assembly?

- Do you approve the renewal of the Public Powers in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, as well as the conduct of elections and the formation of a new government of national unity?

Chavism, with the approval of the Electoral Power, will elect next July 30 the 545 members of the Constituent Assembly that will amend the 1999 Constitution.

The Venezuelan crisis, with a large list of political prisoners, is marked by socioeconomic and institutional chaos with growing food, medicines and goods shortage, along with wage deterioration, accelerated devaluation, hyperinflation, and insecurity.

Maduro insisted that the Chavista revolution suffers an "economic war" from the United States and the far-right opposition with the support of American governments (like Mexico).

Threat

The referendum is carried out under the threat of the regime forces (military, police, and paramilitary) lurking to block it, thus preventing Venezuelans from participating.

"That is a real risk," said Costa Rica's Kevin Casas, former vice president of Costa Rica and former political secretary of the OAS. "The opposition assumes, inevitably, that the query is nothing more than a symbol without binding consequence. I really do not see the benefits that the consultation can bring to the opposition and I see that it has considerable risks," he warned in an interview with EL UNIVERSAL.

In this context, the divisions would be fueled by the government's decision to grant house arrest to Leopoldo López, the main political prisoner in Venezuela and emblematic piece of the opposition.

Casas declared himself "convinced that the government sent him to house arrest precisely to activate those divisions which have always been present. Opposition without elections tends to be fragmented and with elections, it unites."

Thus, the general result of the referendum could show the opposition with a renewed face.

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