Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly: what we know

Caracas (AFP) – Venezuela held elections Sunday for a Constituent Assembly backed by embattled President Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the constitution. Opposition activists and some foreign countries have doubts. What do we know — and not know — about the vote?

– What we know –

The Constituent Assembly will be a “superagency” with authority above all government branches, including the one-chamber National Assembly. It currently is the only part of the government controlled by the opposition.

“It can start everything over from scratch. It can create everything. It is the power of all powers; none is above it,” Maduro has said.

The president, an elected socialist, has made the economy increasingly state-led; food and medical shortages are common. Low crude prices have strained the economy as it has been restructured, to the breaking point.

At least nine people died overnight and into Sunday, according to prosecutors, adding to a four-month death toll of some 120.

The looming system to be drafted by pro-government members would have no checks and balances, and endangers democracy, according to analyst Colette Capriles.

“He already has set up a body that can implement a dictatorship…. So society and the international community have to stand up against this,” she argued.

Many in Venezuela fear it will be even more Cuban-inspired. One-party, Communist-ruled Cuba is Venezuela’s closest ally, followed distantly by China and Russia.

The new constitution will be drawn up by 545 assembly members. While 354 will be based on territories, another 181 will come from social organizations close to the government. The opposition, which is boycotting the vote, slams the voting arrangement as corporative since it was drawn up by the government.

“This is not an election. It’s a fraudulent bid to consolidate” a coup, according to legal expert Jose Ignacio Hernandez.

The government calls the specially arranged voting “direct democracy.” But opposition members stress that Maduro has been unable to work with the National Assembly, so he is taking action that likely would eliminate it, or put it in his pocket.

The Constituent Assembly will start work Wednesday in the legislature’s building where the opposition-run assembly also will be in session.

Maduro said the new constitution, which would replace the one passed under his predecessor ex-president Hugo Chavez, will be put to a referendum vote.

“That’s the last thing that matters,” quipped Colette Capriles, since Maduro and others have said…

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