Venezuela’s opposition kicked off a symbolic vote on Sunday seen likely to reject plans by President Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the constitution, upping pressure on the beleaguered leader after months of violent street protests.
The call to polls — described as a “plebiscite” by the opposition, but “illegal” by the government — is over Maduro’s intention to have a citizens’ body elected to redraft the country’s basic law.
To detract from the opposition vote, his government was on Sunday holding a dry-run simulation of that election, which is to be held on July 30.
Several Latin American countries and the Catholic Church have criticized the move to draw up a new constitution, while the opposition has slammed it as bid by Maduro to concentrate dictatorial powers to stay in power.
The electoral struggle is being played out against a backdrop of pro- and anti-Maduro demonstrations — which have left nearly 100 people dead since April 1 — and a near-collapse of the oil-rich nation’s economy.
Although the National Electoral Council, which sides with Maduro, has not authorized Sunday’s vote, the opposition is expecting a big turnout.
Already early Sunday in Caracas there were lines in parts of the city in front of makeshift polling stations.