Millions of Venezuelans voted on Sunday to reject President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to rewrite the nation’s constitution. The non-binding referendum was organized [NPR report] by the country’s opposition activists. More than 7 million individuals, roughly one-third of Venezuela’s registered voters, took part with over 98 percent rejecting Maduro’s plan [JURIST report]. Many have accused the efforts for a constitutional rewrite to be undemocratic and a way to suppress the months of anti-government protests against Maduro’s presidency. Maduro states [Miami Herald report] that the new assembly, which would elect 527 members, is the only solution to bring an end to the anti-government protests that have brought significant violence to the country. Many government supporters peacefully boycotted Sunday’s vote but several men on motorbikes, described by the opposition as “members of a parliamentary,” opened fire on a polling station in Caracas, injuring three and killing a 61-year-old nurse. The government has refused to recognize the vote as legal and will go forward with plans to hold an election on July 30 to select delegates for a special assembly that will be responsible for rewriting the 18-year-old constitution.
Venezuela has faced significant political unrest since the opposition gained control of the National Assembly in December 2015. In May the US Department of the Treasury announced sanctions [JURIST report] against Venezuelan Supreme Court justices for usurping democracy. In October the National Assembly voted to open criminal impeachment [JURIST report] proceedings against Maduro, alleging that he manipulated the constitution to remain in power. That same month the Assembly also declared [JURIST report] that there was a breakdown of constitutional order and that the government had staged a coup by blocking an attempt to remove Maduro from power. Instability peaked on March 30 when the Supreme Court of Venezuela dissolved [JURIST report] the opposition-controlled National Assembly and assumed all legislative powers.