Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is pledging to go after his political foes with the virtually unlimited powers of a constitutional assembly that his backers will select Sunday, as his opponents wage a last-ditch battle to halt what they call the replacement of democracy with a single-party authoritarian system.
Faced with spiralling socio-economic catastrophe, Maduro is calling for his supporters to turn out in large numbers to elect a special assembly with the powers to rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution. That 18-year-old constitution says no other branch of government can impede the workings of the constitutional assembly. Some interpret that as granting the new assembly powers above and beyond every other state institution, including the opposition-controlled congress.
While opinion polls say a vast majority oppose him, Maduro made clear in a televised address Saturday evening that he intends to use the assembly to govern without limitation, describing the vote as “the election of a power that’s above and beyond every other. It’s the super power!”
He said he wants the assembly to strip opposition legislators of their constitutional immunity from prosecution and jail at least one: Freddy Guevara, a hardline opposition leader and one the highest-profile organizers of four months of protests against the government.
“This little Hitler has his cell guaranteed!” Maduro shouted, using his frequent nickname for Guevara.
The opposition is boycotting Sunday’s vote, contending the election has been structured to ensure Maduro’s socialist party continues to dominate. So all 5,500 candidates for the 545 seats in the constituent assembly are his supporters.
The vote’s success will be measured by turnout, with the opposition urging Venezuelans to stay and the government encouraging participation with tactics that include threats to state workers’ jobs and social benefits like subsidized food for the poor.
Opponents have ‘prison cell waiting’
Maduro indicated he is eager to prosecute many more members of the opposition parties that control a handful of state governments, along with the National Assembly, providing one of the few remaining checks on the power of the socialist party that has ruled this OPEC nation…