Contested polls: On Venezuela Constituent Assembly vote

After months of political protests and government crackdowns, Venezuela held elections to a new Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution. President Nicolás Maduro claims the new assembly was required to calm the unrest that has beset Venezuela amid an economic contraction and runaway inflation. But the opposition boycotted the polls to the assembly, which it says is being convened to overhaul the powers of the elected National Assembly where the opposition parties enjoy a two-thirds majority after electoral victories in December 2015. The Constituent Assembly was announced by decree by the government. It said that nearly 41.5% of the registered electorate voted in the polls, a figure the opposition contests. The need for a Constituent Assembly to address the crisis seems unclear. Venezuela had last elected one in 1999 following a referendum during former President Hugo Chávez’s first term. That vote had overwhelmingly backed a new Constituent Assembly to enable the transition of Venezuela’s political system from the Fourth Republic to the Bolivarian Republic. The creation of the Bolivarian Republic was claimed to be a decisive step away from Puntofijismo, a pact among dominant political parties to install a formal liberal democratic order that limited political competition and was seen to rig economic policy in favour of the elite.

Among the outcomes of the constitution-writing process in 1999 were an extension of the term limit of the presidency, assured representation for marginalised indigenous groups in the National Assembly and conversion of the bicameral legislature into a unicameral body. President Chávez’s redistributionist economic agenda relied heavily on the income generated by the nationalised petroleum industry. In the boom years, this may have lifted some sections of Venezuelans from poverty and provided a measure of education and health care, helping the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) consolidate its hold on power. However, the spree of reckless spending and a failure to diversify the economy resulted in a severe economic crisis once oil prices started falling. Mr. Maduro has struggled to manage the political fallout of the economic contraction — by some estimates, by a third in the past four years. The government continues to count on the promise of a commodity boom in the extraction industry, but the upturn in global oil prices has not been enough to spark an economic revival. The persisting unrest has weakened support to the regime. A strengthened opposition, even with key leaders placed under arrest, has sought to use this to delegitimise the PSUV’s rule and seek fresh elections. Mr. Maduro’s attempt to consolidate power through the new Constituent Assembly lacks legitimacy and may not heal the democratic rupture.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 3:54:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/contested-polls/article19410026.ece

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