7.2 million Venezuelans vote in symbolic plebiscite against Maduro
Venezuela’s opposition hailed an unofficial “plebiscite” held Sunday as a blow against President Nicolas Maduro and his plan to rewrite the constitution, though deadly violence reared its head again with a deadly attack on voters in Caracas.
Nearly 7.2 million Venezuelans took part in the symbolic vote, spurned by Maduro supporters, university guarantors said with about 95 per cent of ballots counted.
Venezuela “sent a clear message to the national executive and the world,” announced Central University of Venezuela president Cecilia Garcia Arocha, noting that 6,492,381 voted in the country and 693,789 abroad.
Voters were asked to fill out ballots featuring three yes-or-no questions. Do they reject the constitutional assembly? Do they want the armed forces to back congress? Do they support the formation of a government comprised both of Maduro backers and opponents?
Garcia said final results would be released Monday.
“We do not want to be Cuba, we do not want to be a country without freedom,” said Julio Borges, leader of the opposition-controlled parliament.
“Today, Venezuela said yes to a dignified country, a democratic country, a country where people do not have to go because they have no future. The mandate the people have given us is clear.”
A 61-year-old woman was killed and three other people wounded when gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on people lined up to vote in Catia, a working-class neighborhood in the capital, prosecutors said.
The death brought to 96 the number of people who have died in nearly four months of protests and political agitation in Venezuela’s streets.
The opposition blamed the attack on “paramilitary groups” linked to the government.
Maduro told the opposition to “not go crazy” with the results of its vote, though the head of the national electoral council told the opposition that the result would be considered to have “no legal consequence.”
Meanwhile, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada said on VTV government TV that he was declaring former Mexican President Vicente Fox persona non grata and banning him from the country for conspiring to instigate violence and foreign intervention. Moncada did not provide evidence to back his claims.
Fox, who left Venezuela late Sunday, had travelled to the country with several other Latin American ex-leaders in a show of support for the opposition’s referendum.
The Mexican government, critical of Maduro, called for the results of the opposition consultation to lead to a “negotiated solution” to help “restore” democracy.
Some Venezuelans, blaming food and medicine shortages on Maduro’s policies, seized on the vote as a way of telling the president to leave office.
People took to Caracas’ streets after the vote shouting “this government is falling” as motorists honked their horns in celebration.
Analysts said the 7.2 million votes was an impressive show of support. However, it fell short of the opposition’s 7.7 million-vote showing in 2015 legislative elections and the 7.5 million votes that brought Maduro to power in 2013. Opposition leaders said that was because it was only able to set up 2,000 polling places in a symbolic exercise the government labelled as illegitimate.
Still, some supporters said they were disappointed.
“I thought it was going to be more,” said Mariela Arana, a 56-year-old school counsellor. “But these seven million people spoke and it was plenty.”
Additional reporting by Associated Press