CARACAS: Venezuela’s opposition was poised Monday to launch a “final offensive” against President Nicolas Maduro after a weekend vote that strongly rejected the embattled leader and his plan to rewrite the constitution.The campaign being mulled by the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Table (MUD) was likely to include intensified protests and possibly a nationwide strike.But any stepped-up confrontation between the opposition and Maduro’s government threatened to deepen a political crisis that, since the beginning of April, has left 96 people dead.On Sunday, an unofficial plebiscite held by the opposition saw more than seven million of Venezuela’s 19 million voters cast ballots, overwhelmingly against Maduro, according to election guarantors from the university community.Celebrations and cries in the street of “The government is falling!” greeted the end of the vote.But it was unclear what real impact the symbolic balloting, which the government dismissed as illegal and politically irrelevant, would have.The opposition, nevertheless, was intent on taking advantage of the moment. “The mandate the people have given us is clear,” said Julio Borges, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.Borges said the vote showed a public desire to see Maduro leave power before the end of his term in 2019.Political analyst John Magdaleno agreed. “There is evidence of a persistent and durable demand for political change,” he told AFP.Pro-Maduro voices, however, challenged the significance of the vote, with some questioning how voter fraud could be detected, given that electoral records were burned after the balloting to prevent reprisals.“What’s going to be audited? Ashes?” asked Delcy Rodriguez, the former foreign minister who is a candidate for the Constituent Assembly — a citizens’ body Maduro wants to see elected on July 30 to undertake the rewriting of the constitution.To detract from the opposition vote, and to provide rival images for state television, Maduro’s government on Sunday held a dry run of that election.But even the president was forced to acknowledge the opposition balloting, though he termed it an “internal consultation” with no legal weight.The result may not have been binding, but Venezuela “sent a clear message to the national executive and the world,” announced Central University of Venezuela president Cecilia Garcia Arocha, one of several experts who oversaw Sunday’s vote.Garcia noted that 6,492,381 voted in the country and 693,789 abroad, according to a count of 95 percent of ballots. Final results would be released Monday, she said.According to Borges, once all ballots are counted, there will be some 7.5 million votes, which he said would be sufficient to overturn Maduro’s mandate if there were a recall referendum.Civil groups, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the United States and several governments in Latin America and Europe backed the anti-Maduro vote. Published in Daily Times, July 18th, 2017.