CARACAS — Venezuelan electoral authorities are due to meet today to rule on the opposition’s bid for a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from power amid an economic implosion.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) left the opposition hanging last Tuesday, its original deadline to rule on whether Maduro’s opponents had successfully gathered 200,000 signatures on a petition to make the leftist leader face a recall vote.
The opposition needs a green light from the CNE to move on to the next stage of the long and winding process -- their strategy for ousting a president they blame for food shortages, hyperinflation and mounting chaos gripping Venezuela.
Instead of giving them an answer on Tuesday, the electoral authorities testily said they "will not accept pressure" and scheduled a meeting for Monday to consider their auditors’ report on the opposition’s petition.
It is unclear when they will announce their decision.
The center-right coalition behind the referendum push, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), accuses the electoral authority of being in bed with Maduro.
But they are hoping pressure from Venezuelans desperate over the collapsing economy will force the government’s hand.
"There are two options at this point: common sense and sanity, or the crisis drags on and the country is going to explode at any moment," said MUD lawmaker Julio Borges, the legislative majority leader.
"The whole country is counting on change."
But MUD, a fractious coalition, has struggled to rally mass protests.
Security fears and the opposition’s own internal divisions have likely kept many Venezuelans away, along with the fact that many are too busy standing in line for scarce food and basic goods.
Maduro’s opponents are racing to force a referendum by January 10, the cutoff to trigger new elections.
After that date -- four years into the president’s six-year term – a successful recall vote would simply transfer power to Maduro’s hand-picked vice president.
A recent poll found 64 percent of Venezuelans would vote to remove Maduro, who has declared a state of emergency and given his military sweeping powers over food production and distribution.
But even if electoral authorities validate the initial recall petition, the opposition will still have to collect another four million signatures in just three days.
To win the ensuing recall referendum, Maduro’s opponents would need more votes than he won the presidency with in 2013 -- around 7.5 million.
Time appears to be on the president’s side.
His allies have an arsenal of possible delaying strategies, from more than 8,000 legal challenges filed against the opposition’s recall petition, to a request to the electoral authorities to ban MUD for alleged fraud. — AFP