Fears of dictatorship as deadly protests overshadow Venezuela vote

©REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party has vowed that a new legislative super-body will begin passing laws quickly following yesterday’s election.

At least 10 people were killed in protests by opponents of unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro, who insists the new “constituent assembly” will bring peace after four months of protests that have killed more than 120 people.

Sunday’s vote that was boycotted by the opposition and slammed by foreign governments as an affront to democracy.

The country’s CNE elections authority said 8.1 million voters went to the polls. The opposition estimated only 2.5 million ballots were cast.

Maduro’s critics characterised the election as a naked power grab meant to keep him in office despite repudiation over an economic crisis that has spurred malnutrition and left citizens struggling to obtain basic products in the nation of about 30 million people.

Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hold up pictures of late president Hugo Chavez. ©REUTERS

The vote could exacerbate those economic woes if the United States – the top market for Venezuelan oil – follows through on threats of economic sanctions, and could sow doubts among investors about the legitimacy of financing deals backed by the new assembly.

“The constituent assembly will start its work right away,” Diosdado Cabello, deputy head of the Socialist Party, told a post-election rally in Caracas that featured singers, dancers and culminated after midnight in the announcement of the official vote count and a fiery speech by Maduro.

“Good morning Venezuela. We have a constituent assembly!” he shouted.

“I ask our countrymen to close ranks so that the assembly can be a place of dialogue.”

Landslide for ruling party

Yesterday, the US State Department vowed “strong swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism” that, according to US officials, will involve sanctions on the oil sector.

Allies of the Socialist Party won all 545 seats in the new assembly, which will have the power to rewrite the constitution, dissolve state institutions such as the opposition-run Congress, and sack dissident officials.

“The constitutional assembly will not resolve any of the country’s problems, it just means more crisis,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles told a news conference, calling for a new round of protests at noon on Monday.

“As of tomorrow, a new stage of the struggle begins,” Capriles said.

Latin American nations from Argentina to Mexico, which are historically wary of siding with Washington in hemispheric disputes, sharply condemned the vote.

Several refused to recognise the results, while Spain and Canada joined in the condemnation.

©REUTERS

Polarisation

Katy Watson, the BBC’s South America correspondent, wrote from the capital Caracas: “This vote highlights just how polarised the country is with a president who ploughs on regardless of the millions of people who object to it.

“The anger was palpable on the streets of Caracas on Sunday with crowds of people defying a protest ban and building barricades, awaiting confrontations with police.”

Socialist party official Cabello hinted that the constitutional assembly would hold sessions in the same legislative palace as the existing Congress, which the opposition took over in a landslide 2015 victory.

“They kick us out the door we come back through the window,” he told a news conference.

“We never surrender. We insist and insist until we win. Today we feel victorious.”

The opposition organised an unofficial referendum over Maduro’s plan in July, when more than 7 million voters overwhelmingly rejected his constituent assembly and voted in favour of early elections.

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