Venezuela’s opposition blocked streets in Caracas on Tuesday to denounce a decision by leftist President Nicolas Maduro to create a “constituent assembly,” a move critics said was a veiled attempt to cling to power by avoiding elections.
After a month of near-daily protests by opponents demanding early general elections, the unpopular leader announced on Monday he planned to set up the super-body popular assembly with the power to rewrite the constitution.
The socialist government said the opposition was promoting street violence and refusing dialogue, so it had no choice but to shake up Venezuela’s power structure.
Critics of the president said he was increasingly dictatorial and planned to staff the assembly with supporters and avoid elections he would likely lose during a crushing recession in the oil-producing country.
Regional elections that were scheduled for last year have yet to be called and a presidential election is due for 2018.
Asked about elections in an interview on state television on Tuesday, the Socialist Party official in charge of the constituent assembly said the electoral schedule would be respected. However the official, Elias Jaua, also suggested that current political turmoil was hindering setting a quick date.
“One of the aims of the constituent assembly is to seek the conditions of stability to be able to go to those electoral processes,” Jaua said. “Those conditions of normality do not exist,” he added, citing protests and institutional clashes between authorities and the opposition-led National Assembly.
The United States, as well as fellow Latin American countries Argentina and Chile, on Tuesday expressed worry about Maduro’s move.
“We have deep concerns about the motivation for this constituent assembly which overrides the will of the Venezuelan people and further erodes Venezuelan democracy,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western hemisphere, in a phone call with reporters.
Fitzpatrick said Maduro was trying to yet again “change the rules of the game” in an effort to remain in power.