Crisis in Venezuela deepens after Constituent Assembly vote

On July 30th, the Venezuelan government held elections for a Constituent Assembly. The results were an overwhelming victory for President Nicolas Maduro and his ruling party in terms of seats in the Constituent Assembly. However, it was at least a partial victory for the opposition regarding voter turnout. As far as what the results mean for the future of Venezuela, the situation still appears to be in Maduro’s favor.

In May, President Maduro announced his intentions to hold an election for members to a Constituent Assembly with the task of rewriting the Constitution. At the time, Venezuela was still embroiled in protests which began when the pro-Maduro Supreme Tribunal of Justice led an aborted coup against the opposition led National Assembly. The Maduro government structured last Sunday’s vote to ensure that its political allies gained a vast majority of the seats in the Constituent Assembly. Pro-government forces also led a get out the vote campaign in recent weeks which employed scare tactics, including threating to fire government employees that didn’t vote. The results indicate that the government’s strategy to pack the Constituent Assembly with its allies was successful, while its efforts to get a large number of Venezuelans to the polling booths were not.

The low voter turnout is a victory for the opposition. In an unofficial referendum organized by the opposition on July 16th, more than 7 million Venezuelans voted against any changes the Constitution. According to a Venezuelan public opinion company, approximately 3.6 million Venezuelans voted on Sunday. However, the opposition claims that turnout was below 3 million and the Maduro government claims it was greater than 8 million. While the actual number of citizens who voted for members of the Constituent Assembly was undoubtedly closer to the opposition’s figure than the government’s, President Maduro was still successful at packing the Constituent Assembly with loyal political allies, including first lady Cilia Flores.

The clear majority that President Maduro has in the Constituent Assembly gives the regime an avenue to cement their hold on power. Before the July 30th vote, pro-government officials had indicated that Venezuela needed a constitution that would restructure the state into a Cuba styled one party dictatorship. Other likely changes to the Constitution are further governmental control over the economy, a severe limitation on political and human rights, and stripping the opposition controlled National Assembly of its legislative power. The constitutional changes and the methods that the government is using mirrors the strategies used by other authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and Turkey.

International condemnation immediately followed Sunday’s vote. In the United States, President Donald Trump increased the sanctions on officials in the Maduro government, including freezing President Maduro’s personal assets. The Organization of American States released a statement condemning the Maduro government for its use of violence and calling President Maduro a dictator. Other countries like Uruguay are urging the government and opposition to negotiate their differences through international mediation. Last year, the Vatican attempted to broker talks between the two sides but was unsuccessful when government officials did not attend.

The situation in Venezuela continues to worsen. Just after midnight on August 1st, the main opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, were abducted from their homes by the police. Their whereabouts and conditions are still unknown.

The government’s recent actions indicate that it is continuing down a path towards a Cuba-style dictatorship. With protests and unrest continuing, Maduro will face mounting domestic pressure as he consolidates power.

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