Caracas, Venezuela – Nicolas Maduro admits that he prayed to God to help him make what may be the riskiest bet of his embattled presidency.
By invoking his presidential powers to call for the formation of a constituent assembly to replace Venezuela’s current constitution, he is essentially rewriting the rules of the game.
The goal: To deal a death blow to the opposition-controlled National Assembly and to calls for anticipated presidential elections to replace him.
Venezuela is undergoing an unprecedented economic, political and humanitarian crisis amid scarcities of basic goods and medicine, with inflation rocketing to over 700 percent.
The Latin American nation has the second highest murder rate in the world.
Maduro says he was left with no choice after month-long protests calling for his removal, which he claims are part of a coup plot led by bourgeois counter-revolutionaries.
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He has signed a decree calling for the formation of a 500-member constituent assembly, in an election that would exclude political parties but instead include representatives from social movements and trade unions that are still largely loyal to him.
Maduro’s claim that this move would “restore peace to Venezuela” is as incomprehensible as it is unlikely.
The opposition has responded with outrage, calling on Venezuelans to openly revolt against what it defines as a state-led coup and a constitutional fraud to entrench a dictatorship.
Flanked by leaders of the main opposition coalition, Julio Borges, the National Assembly president, has called on Venezuelans to take to the streets.
A major demonstration has been called for Wednesday.
Borges also called on the armed forces to defend the current constitution, which was crafted by Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan president, regarded as one of the region’s most modern and democratic. But, privately, opposition leaders are not holding their breath.
Juan Manuel Raffalli, a constitutional expert, sees this as a strategy to plunge the country into a dynamic of electing 500 constituent assembly members that would paralyse all other elections.
“This is an anti-election strategy at a time when the nation is demanding political change through the polls. It’s as simple as that,” Raffalli said.
Whatever the strategy, it is a critical game changer, and the stakes could not be higher.