CARACAS – Venezuela’s opposition vowed on Monday to escalate protests after a massive vote against President Nicolas Maduro in an unofficial plebiscite that the leftist government mocked as a “gigantic fraud.”
After months of demonstrations that have led to nearly 100 deaths, the Democratic Unity coalition said it brought 7.2 million people out on Sunday for an informal referendum intended to de-legitimize a leader they call a dictator.
“We’re going to be on the streets every day, the whole country is going to rise, it’s the start of zero hour,” said opposition legislator Tomas Guanipa, drawing on military jargon for a decisive operation or moment of truth.
Maduro’s foes are demanding a general election and want to stop his plan to create a controversial new legislative super-body called a Constituent Assembly in a July 30 vote.
Opposition strategy may include lengthy road blockades and sit-ins, a national strike, or possibly a march on the Miraflores presidential palace, similar to events before a short-lived coup against Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2002.
“We don’t want a fraudulent Constituent Assembly imposed on us. We don’t want to be Cuba. We don’t want to be a country without freedom,” Julio Borges, who leads the opposition-controlled legislature, said shortly after midnight when the referendum results were announced.
On three questions at Sunday’s event, opposition supporters voted overwhelmingly – by 98 percent – to reject the proposed new assembly, urge the military to defend the existing constitution, and support elections before Maduro’s term ends, according to academics monitoring the vote for the opposition.
Sunday’s reported 7.2 million participation compared with 7.7 million opposition votes in the 2015 legislative elections that it won by a landslide and 7.3 million votes for the opposition in a 2013 presidential poll narrowly won by Maduro.
Opposition organizers said the turnout followed just two weeks of organization, with voting at just 2,000 polling stations, compared to 14,000 for the 2015 vote.