Venezuelans will be taking to the streets Wednesday — once again — in hopes of forcing authorities to set a date for a presidential recall that could determine the fate of the troubled nation.
The coalition of opposition parties, known as the MUD, said the nationwide marches were the only way to keep authorities from dragging their feet on the critical vote.
“The people have to use this legal tool, peaceful protests, to demand that government institutions function properly,” said MUD General Secretary Jesús “Chuo” Torrealba.
The decision came as the National Electoral Council, or CNE, was expected to announce whether organizers had successfully collected and “validated” the signatures of 1 percent of registered voters. If that hurdle is passed, the opposition will have just three days to collect 3.9 million signatures, or 20 percent of voter rolls, to trigger a recall.
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Last month CNE President Tibisay Lucena had said the answer would be ready by July 26. But as of late Tuesday, the electoral body had yet to make an announcement.
It’s clear that President Nicolás Maduro and much of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) don’t want the vote to happen — at least not this year. If they can delay the recall until after Jan. 10, then it would be Maduro’s hand-picked vice president who would finish out his term through 2019. If the recall happens sooner, it would require new elections.
The rules gives the CNE plenty of time for delay. If and when it opens the door for the next stage, the opposition will have to send a letter requesting the recall. The electoral body will then have 15 working days to process the request.
The government will succeed in avoiding a recall vote this year.
The New York-based analysis firm, Eurasia Group, said the earliest a recall might take place is mid-October, but it predicted the administration will run out the clock.
“The government will succeed in avoiding a recall vote this year,” the organization wrote in a letter to subscribers. “International pressure and discussions with the opposition are unlikely to alter the government’s delay tactics, since it wants to avoid new elections at all costs.”
Venezuela is stuck in a grinding crisis featuring triple-digit inflation, a shrinking economy, food shortages and rampant crime. Looting and lynchings have become commonplace.
A poll released by Venebarometro last week found that 88 percent of “likely” voters in a recall would choose to oust Maduro.
Despite the government’s lack of popular support, it has tight control of most branches of government and can still rely on a reduced, but loyal, base.
The impasse comes amid growing international pressure for dialogue in the polarized country. Opposition leaders have said the administration needs to free political prisoners and allow the recall before they’ll talk.
“There can’t be any dialogue ... if the government is going to steal the right of the people to express themselves through a recall,” Henrique Capriles, an opposition governor and former presidential candidate, said in a statement.
Demonstrations and marches have become commonplace in Venezuela. In May, the opposition also took to the streets to force the CNE to move forward with another stage of the recall, leading to clashes with security fores and government supporters.
The administration has suggested the recall is part of larger plot to topple the government. And it has blamed its woes on “economic warfare” by the opposition and foreign meddling.
On Monday, Maduro reiterated claims that the unrest was being fueled by Washington.
“It’s an imperialist aggression that hopes to turn Venezuela, once again, into a neo-colony,” he told a crowd of supporters. “They want to steal our riches.”