CARACAS, Aug 2 (Bernama) — Venezuela’s electoral council said Monday that the opposition has gathered enough signatures to proceed with a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
The National Electoral Council confirmed that some 98 per cent of nearly 400,000 signatures collected by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition in the initial phase were validated.
The council did not set a date for the next stage of the lengthy recall process, in which the opposition must collect 4 million signatures in just three days.
The opposition submitted 1.8 million signatures in May, calling for the president 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 1 per cent of the electorate, or about 200,000 signatures — which the opposition has already cleared. That enables the MUD to formally request a recall vote.
Maduro, who was elected in 2013, is presiding over an acute economic crisis aggravated by deep divisions within the Venezuelan society.
The economic crisis is threatening 17 years of socialist rule under Maduro and his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
A recent poll found 64 percent of Venezuelans would vote to remove Maduro.
Venezuela’s Constitution allows for a recall referendum on the president, but government officials said the lengthy process cannot be completed this year.
The timing is crucial and the opposition now is racing to force a referendum by Jan 10.
If Maduro were to lose a referendum by that date, a new presidential vote would be triggered, giving the opposition a chance to end 17 years of socialism.
After that date, a successful recall vote would simply transfer power to Maduro’s hand-picked vice president, and maintain the Socialist Party in power until the nation’s next presidential election slated for late 2018.
Opposition leaders are demanding Tibisay Lucena, head of the electoral council, set a date for the collection of 4 million signatures needed next to trigger the actual referendum.
“Only one step remaining,” tweeted opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara. “The better Venezuela is coming.”
Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential race and has been the main driver of the recall referendum, called for rallies later this week to pressure for the next phase.
The government, however, has vowed there will be no referendum this year. It has launched nearly 9,000 lawsuits, alleging massive fraud in signature collection.
“Legally, it is dead,” said senior Socialist Party leader Jorge Rodriguez.
Lucena also claimed that the authorities had detected more than 1,000 apparently falsified signatures.
“The electoral authority will ask the state prosecutor’s office to investigate the potential usurpation of identity committed by some citizens,” she said.