Venezuela's socialist leader has ordered the writing of a new constitution, further angering opponents whose intensifying campaign to oust him has brought hundreds of thousands into the streets to demand change.
President Nicolas Maduro was vague in a televised speech Monday evening about how members would be chosen for a citizen assembly to produce a new charter. He hinted some would selected by voters, but many observers expect the government to give itself the power to pick a majority of delegates to the convention.
Opposition leaders cried foul, calling the planned constitutional assembly a ploy to give Maduro an excuse to put off regional elections scheduled for this year and a presidential election that was to be held in 2018. Polling has suggested the socialists would lose both those elections badly amid widespread anger over Venezuela's economic woes of triple-digit inflation and shortages of food and other goods. Speaking hours after yet another big anti-government march ended in rock throwing by some protesters and tear gas firing by police, Maduro said a new constitution is needed to restore peace and stop the opposition from trying to carry out a coup.
Sources in Venezuela sending me footage of protests today. Crazy images. pic.twitter.com/4I6hxMzrSr— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) May 2, 2017
.@newtgingrich: "The left has almost no understanding that their policies lead ultimately, to Venezuela or to Cuba." pic.twitter.com/8xB46KDwc8 — Andy Hortin (@AndyHortin) May 2, 2017
"This will be a citizens assembly made up of workers," the president said. "The day has come brothers. Don't fail me now. Don't fail (Hugo) Chavez and don't fail your motherland."
Venezuela's constitution was last rewritten in 1999, early in the 14-year presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, who began the socialist transformation of the oil-exporting nation.
The president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Julio Borges, called a constitutional assembly a "giant fraud" by Maduro and his allies designed to keep them in power. Borges said it would deny Venezuelans the right to express their views at the ballot box, and he urged the military to prevent the "coup" by Maduro.
"What the Venezuelan people want isn't to change the constitution but to change Maduro through voting," he said at a news conference in eastern Caracas, where anti-government protesters once again clashed with police Monday.
"@raulstolk: #Venezuela -n National Guard hitting protesters with all they've got (keep audio off). #MayDay2017 pic.twitter.com/pBbvFuYRbL" — petra (@1954candanga) May 2, 2017