Campaign to oust Venezuelan President clears first hurdle
CARACAS – Pressure is mounting on President Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela’s national election council has approved the first step in an opposition campaign to oust him from power.
The election council said President Maduro’s opponents had cleared the threshold of gathering 200,000 valid signatures – representing one percent of voters in all 24 of Venezuela’s states – on a petition demanding that the president faces a recall referendum.
The move is the first part of the opposition’s push for an early end to Maduro’s term in office, which began when he succeeded the late Hugo Chavez in April 2013 and is set to run until 2019.
The election council did not set a date for the next stage of the lengthy recall process, in which the opposition will have to collect four million signatures in three days to advance to the national referendum.
Reports indicate that election council head Tibisay Lucena gave Maduro a significant advantage by stating that claims of widespread fraud in the opposition petition should be investigated.
“The electoral authority will ask the state prosecutor’s office to investigate,” said Lucena, who claimed that authorities had detected more than 1,000 apparently falsified signatures.
She nevertheless indicated that 98 percent of about 408,000 signatures gathered by the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition, which was twice the minimum required in the initial phase – had been validated.
The Maduro administration has insisted that there will be no referendum this year, and has initiated nearly 9,000 lawsuits in an effort to try to halt the referendum push.
Reports suggest that timing is vital because if Maduro loses a referendum this year – as polls indicate he will – a new presidential vote will be triggered, giving the opposition a chance to end 17 years of socialist rule.
If the president loses a referendum next year, however, he would be replaced by his vice-president, ensuring the socialist party remain in power until the next presidential election.
The push for a referendum comes against the backdrop of a political and economic crisis in which shortages of food, medicines and basic necessities have become rampant.
Falling production and imports, due to a shortage of foreign exchange, have spurred on inflation, which reached a staggering 180 percent in May, moreover.
Business Insider reports that food riots have occurred across the country, including in the streets around the presidential palace in Caracas.
In June, three people were killed at food-related demonstrations, and 70 people have been killed in vigilante-related lynchings in the first four months of this year.
While Maduro and his political allies blame “economic warfare” by the US and its allies in Venezuela, the middle and poor classes — those who have traditionally supported Maduro, his predecessor Hugo Chavez, and their socialist party — have borne the brunt of the crisis.
Last month, a poll found that Maduro’s support had fallen to 23 percent, while 80 percent of the country wants him out of power this year.