CARACAS May 2 Venezuela's opposition was
blocking streets on Tuesday to decry unpopular leftist President
Nicolas Maduro's decision to create a new super-body known as a
"constituent assembly," a move they say is a veiled attempt to
cling to power by avoiding elections.
After a month of near-daily protests demanding early general
elections, Maduro on Monday announced a new popular assembly
with the ability to rewrite the constitution.
His government says that the opposition is promoting street
violence and refusing dialogue, so it has no choice but to shake
up Venezuela's power structure to bring peace to the oil
Maduro's foes counter that Maduro, a former bus driver they
say has turned into a dictator, is in fact planning to staff the
new assembly with supporters and avoid elections he would likely
lose amid a crushing recession and raging inflation.
Regional elections slated for last year have yet to be
called and a presidential election is due for next year.
When asked about elections in an interview on state
television Tuesday, the Socialist Party official in charge of
the constituent assembly said the electoral schedule would be
respected but also suggested the current political turmoil was
working against setting a quick date.
"One of the aims of the constituent assembly is to seek the
conditions of stability to be able to go to those electoral
processes," said Elias Jaua.
"Those conditions of normality do not exist," he added,
citing protests and institutional clashes between the
opposition-led National Assembly and authorities.
Maduro's critics fear the new body will further sideline the
current opposition-led legislature and pave the way for
undemocratic changes to the constitution, furthering what they
say has been a lurch into dictatorship.
The controversial decision will likely swell anti-government
protests, already the biggest since 2014, as they seek to end
the socialists' 18-year rule started under late leader Hugo
"This is not a constituent assembly, it's the dissolution of
the republic," said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara. "A
message to Chavismo: It's time to unite to save Venezuela from
Since anti-Maduro unrest began in early April, some 29
people have been killed, more than 400 people have been injured
and hundreds more arrested.
Some road blocks were already being set up in the capital
Caracas early on Tuesday, with lawmakers posting photos of
people waving flags in the rain, and the opposition was set to
march again on Wednesday.
While many details remain unclear about the constituent
assembly, Maduro said political parties would not participate
and that only up to half of its 500 members would be elected.
"According to the government, it would have all powers,"
said Jose Ignacio Hernandez, law professor at Venezuela's
Catholic University. "It could dissolve the National Assembly,
name a new electoral council, dismiss governors, and dismiss
(Additonal reporting by Diego Ore and Andrew Cawthorne; Writing
by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Bernadette Baum)