Venezuela’s opposition group not to boycott referendum


Caracas : The self-styled National Resistance Command (CNR) of Venezuela has said it will not boycott the weekend referendum on constitutional changes made by President Hugo Chavez, Spanish news agency EFE reported Thursday.

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The opposition group said rather than boycotting the referendum it would head to the polls “under protest” and vote against the overhaul.

“We have to admit that there’s another viewpoint that is of participation, which has gained force and acceptance among Venezuelans, and it would be foolish to keep swimming against the current,” CNR leader Antonio Ledezma said.

He said his group still believes the “fraudulent apparatus” that the government has set up in the CNE (National Electoral Council) has not yet been dismantled.

The CNR is confident that the “vast majority of Venezuelans” oppose the proposed constitutional changes, Ledezma said.

The CNR’s decision comes a day after one of the two parties that once dominated Venezuelan politics, Democratic Action, announced that it would stop calling for a boycott and instead urge citizens to vote against the overhaul.

The developments leave the radical anti-Chavez faction Fuerza Solidaria as the only group still advocating a boycott of Sunday’s referendum.

The two strongest opposition parties, UNT and Justice First, are leading the campaign for a “no” vote.

Proposed amendments include elimination of presidential term limits, a new territorial arrangement, a 36-hour-work week and the creation of new types of property alongside the existing categories of private and public.

Another measure would give the government the right to suspend due process and press freedom during a state of emergency.

Chavez says the changes to the current constitution, approved in a referendum in 1999, will give “more power to the people” and help expand the project he calls “socialism of the 21st century”.

Meanwhile, opposition parties, the business community, the Catholic hierarchy and even some long-time allies of the president reject the amendments, saying they will grant Chavez virtually unchecked powers.

An opinion poll published earlier this week by a local newspaper showed that 49 percent of voters were opposed to Chavez’s package of amendments while only 39 percent favoured it.

First elected in 1998, the former army paratrooper and failed coup plotter has since won two more elections and defeated a recall attempt, each time by a wide margin.