When your house is burning and smack in the path of a Category 5 hurricane, it’s probably not the best time to tear down the frame and jackhammer the foundation.
But those are the home improvement plans of President Nicolás Maduro, who is moving forward with a provocative attempt to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution despite the country’s descent into political and economic catastrophe.
The government has set July 30 as the date when voters will elect delegates for a constitutional assembly that will have the power to remake Venezuela’s laws. Maduro insists the goal is to “restore peace” to the country, but the effect so far has been quite the opposite, taking a fraught situation and giving it a fuse.
Maduro’s opponents see his rewrite bid as a naked power grab, and they want nothing to do with it. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), Venezuela’s big-tent opposition movement, says it will boycott the assembly. This past week its supporters tried to march again to the headquarters of Venezuela’s election authorities, carrying signs that read “The Constitutional Assembly is a Fraud.”
But their abstention risks giving Maduro a free hand to make sweeping legal and political changes beneath a scrim of democratic legitimacy. If the end result is an extension of Maduro’s rule, analysts say, the assembly could take the country into full-blown dictatorial rule.