Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has reiterated that the new Constitution created by the soon-to-be-elected national Constituent Assembly will be approved by voters through a referendum.
"Once finished, it will taken to a referendum," Maduro said of the new Constitution in an address on state television Sunday. "The sovereignty people of Venezuela are the only ones who can decide."
The president, who called the national Constituent Assembly to promote dialogue between the government and opposition amid an ongoing wave of right-wing protests aimed at forcing the Maduro out of office, added that Venezuela's 1999 Constitution will be the basis for the Constituent Assembly process. The 1999 Constitution was the outcome of late President Hugo Chavez' promise to rewrite the Constitution, and is widely considered one of the most progressive in the world.
"The main task ... of the 1999 Constitution was to create a new Constitution to refound the Republic," said Maduro. "And the tasks of this Constitution have to do with transforming the state to build a more democratic, more social society."
Venezuela's top electoral official, Tibisay Lucena, head of the National Electoral Council or CNE, has announced that the election of representatives to the Constituent Assembly will likely be scheduled for July 30. While Maduro called the Constituent Assembly to promote a democratic solution to high-running political tensions and to bring proposals to the table from all sides, the process has sparked renewed calls for "rebellion" and an "escalation" of protests from right-wing opposition leaders.
While the opposition has long insisted that the Maduro government is a repressive "dictatorship," the right-wing protests have increasingly spilled over into violence, which opposition leaders have failed to condemn. The government accuses the opposition of using protest violence to destabilize the government as part of U.S.-backed efforts to carry out a coup.
The same day Maduro announced his plans for a referendum, opposition groups protested in Caracas once again, continuing two months of nearly daily demonstrations that have increasingly resulted in violence. Anti-government demonstrators accused security forces of repression, while three riots broke out causing three soldiers to be shot and injured and three buses to be burned, allegedly by a group of protesters.
The Constituent Assembly will be made up of 545 members representing various social sectors and regions. Opposition leaders have rejected the process, arguing that it will be made up of government supporters, or Chavistas. But the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, known as the MUD, has rejected the process, criticizing the Constituent Assembly as "communist" and calling instead for more protests.
"They think that on July 30 we will allow a Cuban constitution to be established," said lawmaker Freddy Guevara, vice president of the opposition majority in parliament. "The referendum strategy exposes fractures and Maduro does not have the strength of Chavismo to maintain his vision."
According to the CNE, the outpouring of interest from citizens in registering to become candidates for the Constituent Assembly was overwhelming. A total of 35,438 applicants registered to be nominated as candidates for the various social sectors to be represented in the Constituent Assembly, including workers, retirees, students and other groups, and another 19,876 registered to be nominated as regional candidates.
Meanwhile, Venezuela's Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who also served as the chief prosecutor under Chavez, has called for the Constituent Assembly to be scrapped completely, arguing it will only aggravate the current crisis and create a setback in democracy. She has filed an action against the Constituent Assembly in the Supreme Court in hopes her concerns will be submitted for public consideration.
Contrary to Ortega, Jorge Rodriguez, leader of the Maduro's socialist PSUV party, believes that most voters will approve the Constitution.
“Anyone who wants to distance themselves from the violent opposition proposal has to participate,” said Rodriguez.
As the divide between parties widens, pulling the country into further turmoil, the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference has announced a meeting later this week with Pope Francis to “explain to him the serious situation.”
Maduro welcomed an offer earlier this year by Pope Francis to mediate a dialogue between the government and the opposition, but right-wing groups have rejected calls for negotiations to ease political tensions.