Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to go ahead with a vote next week to elect a new national assembly, which would have the power to re-write the constitution, despite opposition pressure and a threat by the US to slap more sanctions on the country.
“This time next week Venezuelans will vote for a Constituent Assembly,” Maduro said in a televised speech on Sunday.
The left-wing president has been under pressure to revoke the decision to hold the July 30 vote. He says, however, that the new assembly, which would be empowered to dissolve government institutions, is a must to bring back peace to the country.
Maduro further described the vote as a chance for Venezuelans to decide “between peace or war, violence or the Constituent Assembly.”
“The imperial right wing believes it can give orders to Venezuela, the only ones who give orders here are the people,” said Maduro, in reference to a recent threat by US President Donlad Trump to impose sanctions on Caracas if the vote is not aborted.
The US and its allies in South America have sided with the opposition amid the the political tensions gripping Venezuela over the past months.
The president also slammed an opposition call for the boycott of the Constituent Assembly vote.
“Who doesn’t go vote next Sunday is hurting the Republic of Venezuela, is hurting the right for peace, because what we are deciding here next week is between peace or war, violence or the constituent assembly,” he said.
He urged the opposition to let people cast their ballots in peace, warning that special election centers would be set up to accommodate those blocked by “fascists” at their local vote point.
“They have not toppled me nor will they topple me,” the president stressed.
Maduro further vowed to imprison members of a new alternative Supreme Court panel appointed by the opposition in defiance of the government.
“They are all going to jail, one by one. And all their property and accounts will be frozen,” he promised.
Opposition leaders have called for a week of protests against the vote, including a two-day national strike in Caracas on Wednesday and Thursday.
They say writing a new constitution would give the president an excuse to put off regional elections scheduled for this year and a presidential election slated for 2018.
An opposition member of parliament, Simon Calzadilla, called on Venezuelans to go to electoral centers and place protest banners and signs that would say “in my voting place, there won’t be a constituent assembly.”
He also urged people to attend a rally in Caracas on Friday to “demand massively” that Maduro’s government halt the vote.
The opposition held a symbolic vote against Maduro on July 16, demanding conventional free elections, including for a new president. It said more than seven million people voted in the referendum, which was boycotted by government supporters.
Venezuela has recently been the scene of intense protests, which broke out after the Supreme Court stripped the opposition-controlled parliament of its powers in April.
The later was revoked later, but tensions have continued unabated. More than 100 people have so far died.