CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolas Maduro threatened on Thursday to seek a constitutional amendment to slash the opposition-led legislature’s term and vowed to lead a “revolution” should his foes wrest him from the presidency.
The socialist leader’s strong words deepened the already bitter political standoff in the OPEC member nation since the opposition coalition won control of the National Assembly in a December vote and vowed to seek Maduro’s exit this year.
During a rally, pro-government constitutional lawyer Hermann Escarra proposed that Maduro seek a constitutional amendment to reduce the assembly’s term from five years to 60 days.
“I’ll look at it very seriously,” Maduro said, to cheers from several thousand red-clad supporters demonstrating against an assembly law intended to free jailed opposition activists.
“And if I see the possibility of clearing away coup-mongering and the use of the National Assembly, I myself would activate it if the people support me.”
In an overt conflict of powers, the government-leaning Supreme Court has been shooting down assembly motions, while the national election board is dragging its feet over the opposition’s desire to hold a recall referendum this year.
Should Maduro propose a constitutional amendment to shorten legislators’ term, that too would have to go to a national vote.
Maduro, 53, who won election in 2013 to succeed his mentor Hugo Chavez, constantly accuses the opposition and the United States of seeking a coup. He also accuses his foes of an “economic war”, though critics say failed socialist policies are at the root of Venezuela’s deep recession and acute shortages.
“I’m going to say something strong,” Maduro added.
“If they one day win power due to their non-conventional, economic war, due to violence, then the Bolivarian revolutionary movement and the Venezuelan people would take to the street in general insurrection ... Another revolution would start, I tell the oligarchy. And I would lead it!”
Earlier in the day, government supporters and opposition activists exchanged punches and kicks, and stones were thrown, when coalition leaders gathered at the election board to seek paperwork for requesting the recall referendum.
The opposition said a journalist and legislator were injured, and blamed an “ambush” by Maduro supporters trying to derail a recall referendum.
“The government is not illiterate, it can read the polls, it knows it wouldn’t win any election - not even a carnival queen contest!” coalition head Jesus Torrealba said.
Additional reporting by Diego Ore, Efrain Otero, Marco Bello and Daniel Kai; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and James Dalgleish