Venezuela goes to polls as opposition boycotts Nicolas Maduro's socialist power-grab

International Electoral Observers Report Irregularities with Opposition Plebiscite

'I hope things get better, ' Marquez said, acknowledging that times had been tough in the country under the ruling Socialist Party government.

Lucena said the election process for the National Constituent Assembly is audited by local and worldwide entities, and that her organization will ensure and protect the Venezuelan people's right to vote, despite recent threats by the opposition to stage violent protests and prevent the election.

More than four months of opposition-led protests against Maduro have left more than 100 people dead, exposing deep rifts in the oil-rich country suffering from food and medicine shortages.

"We've stoically withstood the terrorist, criminal violence", Maduro said.

Voters are picking 545 delegates from over 6,000 candidates drawn from all walks of life, from students and pensioners to farmers and fishermen.

Maduro's critics were planning to pile more pressure on the unpopular leftist leader by holding roadblocks across the nation dubbed "The Takeover of Venezuela" on Friday.

The opposition has organized a series of work stoppages as well as a July 16 protest vote that it said drew more than 7.5 million symbolic votes against the constitutional assembly.

"The line at the bakery near my house to buy bread was longer than the one here", said Leonardo Martinez, 42, a motorcycle taxi driver, as he looked on at a polling station in central Caracas.

"We are here as pure resistance, against the process happening today against the constitution. How is it going to solve our problems?" The western state has been the scene of violent clashes between protesters and police.




Workers at state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) received text messages asking them to send in their national identification number once they had voted, two sources said.

There are fears that the results of the election could give Maduro sweeping new powers. Others suggest that the assembly could be used a potential bargaining chip with his political foes.

An opposition lawmaker, Freddy Guevara, said the struggle against Maduro started before the Constituent Assembly was mooted, and will continue regardless of the election.

Here in South Florida hundreds turned out last week for a symbolic vote to make sure their voice was heard in Venezuela.

He said he wants the assembly to strip opposition legislators of their constitutional immunity from prosecution and indicated he is eager to prosecute many more members of the opposition parties that control a handful of state governments along with the National Assembly, providing one of the few remaining checks on the power of the socialist party that has ruled this OPEC nation for almost two decades.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is known to level frequent barbs at his Colombian counterpart, casting him as a slave to imperial foreign rule.

Sector-wide sanctions could prove devastating given the two countries' close economic ties and the dire state of Venezuela's finances.

For many, the effect of Sunday's vote may depend more on Washington's reaction than any potential changes to the constitution.

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