Venezuelans on Sunday began voting for a constitutional super-body expected to hand sweeping new powers to ruling Socialist Party officials and potentially extend their unpopular rule.
President Nicolas Maduro, widely disliked for overseeing an unraveling of the economy, has promised the assembly will restore peace after four months of opposition protests during which more than 115 people have been killed.
Maduro, who has been heckled at recent public outings, cast his vote around 6 a.m. on Sunday with little fanfare.
Opposition parties are boycotting what they call a rigged election while their sympathizers plan demonstrations across the country during the day – raising the prospect of violent clashes with security forces.
Critics say the assembly will allow Maduro to dissolve the opposition-run Congress, delay future elections and rewrite electoral rules to prevent the socialists from being voted out.
The vote, which follows the postponement of regional elections and Maduro’s repeated refusal to heed decisions by Congress, has brought global condemnation.
The United States, which is the largest market for OPEC member Venezuela’s oil, last week sanctioned 13 Socialist Party leaders, in part as a response to the election. President Donald Trump’s administration has vowed additional economic measures if the vote takes place.
Neighboring Colombia says it will not recognize the results. “By tomorrow, it will be clear that this was not just a constitutional fraud but also the biggest historical mistake that Maduro and his gang could have made,” opposition leader Freddy Guevara told a news conference on Saturday.