CARACAS — Venezuela’s opposition gathered enough signatures to proceed with efforts to call a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro, electoral authorities said Monday, without setting a date for the next step.
The head of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, told a press conference Maduro’s opponents had cleared the threshold of 200,000 valid signatures on a petition demanding the leftist leader face a recall referendum.
The opposition blames Maduro for an economic crisis that has seen food shortages, hyperinflation, violence and looting erupt in the once-booming oil giant.
The council did not set a date for the next stage of the lengthy recall process, in which the opposition must collect four million signatures in just three days.
In a boost to the Maduro camp’s claims of rampant fraud in the opposition petition drive, Lucena said the authorities had detected more than 1,000 apparently falsified signatures.
The opposition submitted 1.8 million signatures in May calling for Maduro to face a recall, 1.3 million of which were accepted by the council.
Signatories then had to show up at electoral offices to validate their identity with fingerprint scans.
The threshold was one percent of the electorate, or roughly 200,000 signatures, which the opposition cleared.
However, Lucena said more than 1,000 fingerprint scans did not correspond with the signatory’s identity, more than 400 were repeats and nearly 200 people tried to register more than once.
"The electoral authority will ask the state prosecutor’s office to investigate," she said.
Now that the electoral authorities have validated 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. They have filed more than 8,000 legal challenges against the recall petition and called on the electoral authorities to ban the opposition coalition behind the referendum push for alleged fraud. — AFP