By Corina Pons and Brian Ellsworth
CARACAS (Reuters) – More than 7 million Venezuelans voted in Sunday’s unofficial referendum held by the opposition to heap pressure on President Nicolas Maduro and repudiate his plan to rewrite the OPEC nation’s constitution, monitors said.
The symbolic plebiscite was aimed at denting Maduro’s legitimacy further amid a crippling economic crisis that has left millions struggling to eat and months of anti-government unrest that has killed nearly 100 people.
Opposition leaders hailed it as a success, while also mourning the death of one woman killed by gunmen in Caracas during the voting.
“Today, July 16, dignity won and tyranny lost,” said opposition leader Maria Corina Machado. “We have given an indisputable mandate for a new Venezuela starting tomorrow.”
Maduro, 54, dismissed Sunday’s poll as unconstitutional and is campaigning instead for a July 30 vote to create a legislative superbody that would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.
Voters were asked three questions at Sunday’s event and an overwhelming 98 percent chose to reject the proposed new assembly, urge the military to defend the existing constitution, and support elections before Maduro’s term ends in early 2019, according to academics monitoring the vote for the opposition.
Sunday’s participation by nearly 7.2 million Venezuelan voters compared with 7.7 million opposition votes in the 2015 legislative elections, which they won by a landslide, and the 7.3 million votes for the opposition in a 2013 presidential poll narrowly won by Maduro.
Graphic: Venezuela’s dark days: http://tmsnrt.rs/2pPJdRb
The event appeared to rejuvenate the opposition amid weariness with street protests, but does not augur for a change of government in the short term or a solution to the political stalemate.
The opposition described it as an act of civil disobedience that will be followed by “zero hour,” a possible reference to a national strike or other escalated actions against Maduro.
Lines formed during the day at makeshift polling stations at theaters, sports fields, and traffic circles in the oil-rich nation of 30 million as Venezuelans furious over food shortages and rampant inflation sought to make their voices heard.
There was a festive atmosphere under the Caribbean sun in most places, with people blasting music, honking car horns, waving Venezuelan flags, and chanting “Yes we can!”
“Maduro has done everything very badly, and now, via a fraudulent…