Venezuela’s opposition Monday said it’s going to resume marches and protests after the National Electoral Council stopped short of providing firm dates, or any assurance, that a presidential recall might happen this year.
In a much-awaited, but anticlimactic, event, CNE President Tibisay Lucena confirmed that the the opposition had gathered and validated enough signatures (one percent of voter rolls) in May and June to open the door for the next step of the process.
Organizers had been demanding that she announce when they could take that next step, which will require them to gather 3.9 million signatures, or 20 percent of registered voters, in three days. Once they successfully do that then, in theory, a presidential recall vote would be held.
Although Monday’s announcement is a step in the right direction, the lack of firm dates is riling organizers who have been demanding clarity for weeks.
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The opposition accuses the socialist administration of dragging its feet in hopes of pushing the recall back into next year. Only if Maduro is ousted before Jan. 10 will new elections be held. After that date, Maduro’s handpicked vice president would finish his term through 2019.
The head of the MUD coalition of opposition parties, Jesus Torrealba, said Monday’s announcement means a recall should happen this year. Under the rules, the coalition has 48 hours to ask for the next stage to begin, and the CNE will have 15 days to evaluate that petition.
The president and his allies have said the vote won’t happen on the opposition’s timeline, and have also suggested that it’s part of a larger plot to illegally topple the administration.
On Monday, Jorge Rodriguez, a ruling-party mayor who is part of the administration’s recall “verification” team, said the process was too riddled with fraud to be viable. He called the recall “legally dead” and said more than 8,000 lawsuits had been filed against it. He predicted it was only a matter of time before the courts scrapped it altogether.
Also Monday, Diosdado Cabello, a powerful ruling-party deputy, said the recall referendum “will never happen this year” — and perhaps not at all.
Lucena confirmed that thousands of people who might have committed fraud by using fake names, IDs, or registering multiple times would be investigated. The announcement is likely to revive fears that those who signed the first stage of the recall petition might be singled out for reprisals.
“They can ask the [justice department] for all the investigations they want but they can’t stop the recall,” Torrealba said late Monday.
As Venezuela lurches through its worst economic, political, and social crisis in decades, many believe that cutting Maduro’s term short and holding new elections is the only way out.
Polls show that voters are ready to oust Maduro, but many analysts believe the administration will use the courts and other tactics to delay the vote into next year.
Opposition groups are calling for a march on Wednesday to try to extract key dates from the electoral body — something a similar march last week failed to do.
Henrique Capriles, an opposition governor and one of the proponents of the recall, has been warning the government that it’s playing with fire by hampering the recall effort.
“We don’t know how the Venezuelan people will react if they’re robbed of this constitutional right to vote and express themselves,” he told a crowd of supporters over the weekend. Derailing the recall effort, he added, “could put Venezuela on the edge of a social explosion, which nobody wants.”
A previous version of this article misspelled anticlimactic.