Venezuelans overwhelmingly reject Maduro's constitutional efforts

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |  July 17, 2017 at 8:32 AM
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July 17 (UPI) -- 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.

The leaders of five Venezuelan academic institutions late Sunday said 7,186,170 citizens participated in the El Pueblo Decide, or The People Decide, poll.

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 abroad.

The opposition's electoral event asked Venezuelans three "Yes" or "No" questions: Do you reject reject Maduro's Constituent Assembly, a process seeking to establish a new Constitution scheduled to be held July 30; do you demand Venezuela's security forces support the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature and the country's 1999 Constitution; and do you support that Venezuela's public institutions should be restored in accordance with the Constitution and whether the South American country should hold presidential elections before Maduro's term ends in early 2019.

García Márquez said 98 percent of Venezuelans who participated voted "yes" on all three questions.

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.

Maduro's government on Sunday also held an electoral event -- essentially a trial run of the upcoming Constituent Assembly.

The opposition has criticized Maduro's Constituent Assembly as an attempt to establish a dictatorship in which the National Assembly's powers would be further weakened.

The opposition's unofficial poll attempts to determine what Venezuelans think about key criticisms against Maduro's regime -- that Venezuela's institutions, including security forces and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice top court, work in Maduro's favor; that the National Assembly has been stripped of power; and that a majority of Venezuelans support the removal of Maduro as president.

Maduro and his officials have repeatedly said the opposition's poll is not a legitimate electoral procedure and called the results "meaningless."

Meanwhile, the opposition praised the vote as proof that Venezuelans demand democratic change.

"Today we awoke stronger. We carried out a democratic earthquake to break down walls and achieve a change," Julio Borges, the leader of the National Assembly, said in a statement Monday.

The opposition's poll had the support of numerous current and former world leaders, including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former Mexican President Vicente Fox, whom Venezuela banned from returning to the country on accusations he promotes violence and political intervention.

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