Venezuela’s opposition is calling for a national protest next month in hopes of forcing a presidential recall this year — even after authorities on Tuesday released an electoral calendar suggesting it might not happen until 2017.
The coalition of opposition parties, known as the MUD, is asking people from all over Venezuela to descend on Caracas Sept. 1 to agitate for the vote.
“We will have a recall referendum in 2016 because it’s technically possible, politically pertinent and socially necessary,” the organization’s Secretary General Jesús Torrealba said in a statement.
The announcement came after Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), on Tuesday laid out a timeline for the referendum in a nationally-televised speech.
According to her calendar, the opposition might be asked to collect 3.9 million signatures — or 20 percent of voter rolls — at the end of October, and the CNE would have until the end of November to review those signatures and call a referendum. But the electoral body can schedule that critical vote any time during the next 90 days, making a vote in January or February a possibility.
The timing is crucial. If the recall happens before Jan. 10 it will trigger new elections. However, if Maduro were to lose a recall vote after that date, his hand-picked vice president would finish out his term through 2019.
The opposition has been accusing the electoral body of dragging its feet on the process to protect the unpopular president and his socialist administration.
Lucena defended the process, saying that a failed 2004 recall effort against the late President Hugo Chávez took 319 days to organize.
And she warned the opposition that it was “wasting its time” with protests.
“This electoral power does not accept pressure from anyone,” she told an audience of administration officials. “Our duty is to guarantee the constitutional rights of all Venezuelans.”
In a letter to subscribers, New York-based analysis firm, Eurasia Group, predicted the administration will avoid a recall this year “at all costs.”
“As such, the only avenue for a political transition in 2016 is a social explosion that brings masses out to the streets demanding change, including the chavista base of support,” the organization said, referring to late President Hugo Chávez’s still-loyal base. “Absent an explosion, the government will likely allow a recall to take place in early 2017 in an effort to respond to rising international pressure and fragile social dynamics.”
The electoral calendar is a bitter blow to the opposition, which believes that Maduro’s ouster this year is the only way out of a deep economic, social and political crisis.
Venezuela is seeing triple-digit inflation and a tanking economy amid depressed oil prices and draconian price and currency controls that have throttled domestic production.
Hunger for Change?
Polls show that the president would likely be swept out in a referendum.
For months, Maduro and some of his closest advisers have said the recall wouldn’t happen this year. And Lucena’s statements only seem to reinforce that idea. But the calendar does leave open the possibility that the vote could happen before Jan. 10.
And some in the opposition say it’s up to the people, protesting on the street, to make that happen.
“There’s no legal or technical reason that the referendum can’t be held this year,” said Henrique Capriles, the opposition governor of Miranda state and a former presidential candidate. “Venezuelans together are more powerful than Ms. Lucena.”