Millions of Venezuelans Turn Against Maduro in Symbolic Vote

  • Voters asked to reject Maduro’s plan to change constitution
  • Millions voted in mock plebiscite inside country and abroad

Why Venezuela's Many Crises Keep Getting Worse

Almost 7.2 million Venezuelans lined up throughout the country and abroad for a symbolic vote of dissent against President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution, a turnout that dwarfed expectations.

The tally, which was reported by opponents of the authoritarian regime who organized the plebiscite, represented a significant proportion of the nation’s population of 31 million. Massing to about 2,000 polling places in the colors of the Venezuelan flag, they defied the threat of violence by government supporters that took at least one life.

“With these numbers, Maduro is rebuked,” Julio Borges, president of the opposition controlled National Assembly, said late Sunday. “The people have given a clear mandate to have a free and democratic country. We don’t want to be Cuba.”

Venezuelans were asked in the unofficial plebiscite whether they would reject Maduro’s plan to convene an assembly July 30th that aims to rewrite the constitution and grant even more powers to the presidency. As part of the symbolic vote, Venezuelans were also asked whether or not they would back fresh elections for a new government. About 700,000 people participated from outside of the country.

Voters wait to cast their ballots on July 16.

Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg

While the poll lacks any real enforcement mechanism and isn’t approved by the National Electoral Council, the strong turnout could embolden calls from home and abroad for Maduro to withdraw the proposal for the new constituent.

“The result is a remarkable show of force for Venezuela’s opposition,” Torino Capital said Monday in an emailed note. “The results seem to confirm that the opposition would easily defeat the government in any election.”

Still, it’s unclear whether Maduro’s government will rein in its plans to rewrite the constitution, added the New York-based investment bank, which specializes in the country’s securities.

“While we believe the government is likely to continue to see an erosion of its political base, we see this process occurring gradually and only possibly leading to regime change in the medium term,” it said in its note.

Long Lines

Polling stations were operated Sunday by opposition volunteers in plazas, churches and sporting facilities. Voters lined up early, sometimes by the hundreds, many wearing shirts and hats with the Venezuelan flag on it, chanting against Maduro.

“We have no future, our kids have no future. This is a dictatorship, and I just can’t sit home and complain, I have to go out and protest,” said Alfonso Cortez, a 74-year-old retired man who walked to Caracas with more than 200 people from Tachira, a border state with Colombia, to vote against the assembly.

Henrique Capriles, a former presidential candidate and opposition leader, said the day’s true significance was the turnout, which highlighted Venezuelans’ desire for better economic and social conditions.

Henrique Capriles casts a ballot during the symbolic plebiscite.

Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg

“If the current government doesn’t want to end in our country’s political trash can, they should take note of the overwhelming, peaceful democratic expression and cancel the constitutional fraud,” he told reporters in Caracas. “The cancellation of the constitutional assembly would be a victory for the Venezuelan people.”

The National Assembly reported “irregularities” involving armed paramilitaries in a polling point in Catia, a neighborhood outside of Caracas, according to its Twitter feed. Carlos Ocariz, an opposition leader, told reporters that 263 incidents had been recorded across the country.

Borges said a 61-year-old woman died after armed paramilitaries shot towards people outside of a church in the poor Catia neighborhood of Caracas.

“We don’t want any more deaths,” he said. “We want the peace of the ballot.”

With fears of violence ahead of the vote, the United Nations had called on Venezuela’s government to allow the process to proceed peacefully. Tensions had been high ahead of the vote, which took place after four months of organized protests against Maduro’s government, which have left almost 100 people dead.

For a Bloomberg QuickTake Q&A on Maduro’s plan for new constitution, click here.

Venezuelans abroad, traditionally barred from voting in regular elections, were allowed to participate in more than 60 countries. At one of five polling stations in Buenos Aires, the queue to vote was six blocks long as Venezuelans waited in the cold.

The figures abroad and at home were accounted as a victory.

“Turnout of several million would send a very strong signal, with anything exceeding that a remarkable success,” Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Agata Ciesielska said in a report this month.

— With assistance by Fabiola Zerpa

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