Huge Turnout of Venezuelans Opposing Maduro's Attempt to Rewrite the Constitution


Observers said more than seven million Venezuelans have overwhelmingly supported the opposition's unofficial referendum, which partly rejects President Nicolas Maduro's attempt to rewrite the Constitution.

"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, ahead of an official announcement of tactics by the opposition coalition.

Over 7 million out of 19.5 million eligible voters have participated in the opposition poll, nearly the number of 7.7 million voters who backed the opposition in the last presidential elections.

Venezuelans living overseas were also given a chance to vote, with impromptu stations in the US, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Columbia - all popular destinations for the ever increasing number of refugees fleeing the crisis in Venezuela.

Maduro has slammed the opposition vote as meaningless and illegitimate. More than 500 protesters and government opponents have been jailed.

In a statement released last week (12 June), the Venezuelan episcopal conference said that it "clearly perceived how the violence has acquired a structural character".

The commission of university rectors announced the results of the consultation on Sunday over the Constituent Assembly called by Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution. After much protest and accusations from the opposition of Maduro trying to stage a coup, the decision was reversed.

A week earlier Oscar Perez, a police officer, stole a helicopter and launched an attack against Venezuela's pro-government Supreme Court and the Interior Ministry in Caracas. Some 100 people have been killed in clashes stemming from the political conflict.

Over the past couple of years the escalating crises in what once was the richest South American country has led to steep deterioration of public health with infectious diseases such as malaria creeping back.

The President's call to amend the constitution has led to widespread protests condemning the move.

Maduro has called for the creation of a "constituent assembly", a Soviet-like body that will seek to modify the country's constitution.

The Venezuelan bishops strongly supported the referendum, even though, legally speaking, it has no standing because it's rejected by Maduro.

The referendum, which was held throughout Venezuela and in several other countries, is the opposition's attempt to show how many Venezuelans reject Maduro and his policies amid a political and economic crisis.

The figure obtained by the opposition, however, is lower than the 7,587,579 votes secured by Maduro in the presidential elections of 2013, when he beat opposition leader Henrique Capriles by less than two percentage points.

Cecilia Carlota García Márquez, the dean of the Central University of Venezuela, said 95 percent of ballots were cast within Venezuela, while the remaining 5 percent were cast overseas.

A dry run of that election was also held Sunday, to detract from the opposition vote which the government branded "illegal". They also voted for the armed forces to defend the current constitution.

David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela, said Sunday's results would likely rally the worldwide community even more strongly against the July 30 vote Maduro has called to elect members of the assembly that will retool Venezuela's 1999 constitution.

According to the opposition, the formation of the new assembly could be herald dictatorship.