Let’s lay this out with bullet points as there is a lot of background information here:
- Venezuela has been in an increasingly violent crisis for more than three months.
- The crisis began when socialists on the Supreme Court attempted to seize power from the opposition held National Assembly.
- Socialist President Nicolas Maduro has delayed regional elections.
- Maduro’s government also permanently blocked a popular referendum which could have removed him from power.
- Maduro announced plans to rewrite the constitution.
- The opposition has refused to participate in the selection of delegates for the special assembly called to rewrite the constitution.
And that brings us more or less up to the present. The opposition has announced a referendum vote for Sunday to determine whether or not Venezuelans want the Constitution rewritten. But Maduro is saying the referendum won’t count, no matter the outcome. So the country is facing another big showdown between the unpopular president and the people who consider him a dictator. From the Miami Herald:
The weekend plebiscite will ask voters if they support the government’s plan to elect an unpopular National Constituent Assembly that will overhaul the 1999 constitution…
Organizers of Sunday’s vote are hoping that if they can get millions of people to reject the deal, the government might be persuaded to drop its plans…
The vote “will largely be symbolic, but in politics symbols are important,” said Ronal Rodríguez with the Venezuelan Observatory, a think tank at Colombia’s Rosario University. “This could give oxygen to the opposition and fuel more disobedience.”
Organizers say the vote might be followed by a national strike. And analysts said it could put the opposition on course to recover the presidency during elections in December 2018 — if those elections happen.
That last bit is key because there is no reason to believe next year’s elections will happen as scheduled. In fact, it’s widely suspected that the entire effort to rewrite the constitution is aimed at making sure Maduro has some excuse to remain in power. Meanwhile, NBC News reports most Venezuelans don’t think the constitution needs to be rewritten:
Based on a poll from the Caracas polling firm Datanalisis, 85 percent of those surveyed this year said a rewrite of the constitution was “unnecessary.”
Eighty-six percent of those polled this year also said President Maduro should have held a national vote first to ask Venezuelans if they wanted a constituent assembly.
So what we’re likely to see Sunday is a large number of people indicating they don’t want this effort to continue and the government telling them it doesn’t matter what they want. That’s the big picture. Closer to the street, this vote could prompt a lot more violence from Colectivo gangs. As we saw recently, those groups have escalated to attacking opposition lawmakers directly.
In short, Sunday’s vote could turn into one of the most bitterly fought showdowns between the regime and its people thus far.