Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela opposition march over referendum delays

A member of the Venezuela"s opposition gestures showing a national flag in front of National policemen during a demonstration in Caracas on July 27, 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tightly guarded by riot police, opposition supporters shouted "Recall Now" as they marched to the National Electoral Council headquarters in Caracas.

Hundreds of Venezuelan opposition supporters have marched in protest to the National Electoral Council (CNE) in the capital Caracas.

They demanded a ruling on whether a recall referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro can go ahead.

The decision had been expected on Tuesday on whether enough valid signatures had been collected.

The opposition have said the CNE is biased in favour of the government and is dragging its feet.

The CNE said it would meet next Monday for further discussions but did not give a date for a ruling.

Venezuela is going through a dire economic crisis with severe food shortages and recent polls suggest 64% of Venezuelans would vote to remove Mr Maduro from office.

However, there are a series of steps which have to be met before a recall referendum can be held.


Steps towards the recall referendum

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thousands of Venezuelans queued at CNE offices to have their signatures validated
  • 1% of voters on the electoral roll have to sign a petition within 30 days to kick-start the process
  • Signatures have to be validated
  • 20% of voters (almost four million) have to sign a second petition in order to trigger the referendum
  • For the referendum to be successful, an equal or greater number of voters than those who elected Mr Maduro would have to cast their vote in favour of the recall - he won the 2013 election with 7,587,579 votes

So far, the opposition has completed the first step. On 2 May, it handed the CNE a petition with almost two million signatures, many more than the 194,729 needed at this first stage.

The CNE has since been working on step two, validating the signatures by asking signatories to come forward and be fingerprinted.

On Tuesday, the CNE had been expected to announce the final result of the validation and to set a date for step three, when signatures will have to be collected on a second petition, which, if successful, would trigger the referendum proper.

But by the end of Tuesday, the CNE released a statement (in Spanish) saying it would only meet on 1 August to examine the auditors' report on the validation process.

Timing is key

The opposition has long accused the CNE of siding with the government and using delaying tactics to try and thwart the referendum.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Supporters of the recall referendum are anxious for it to proceed apace

Opposition leaders are anxious to proceed with the referendum as soon as possible because its timing is key to what happens next.

Should it be held before 10 January and go against Mr Maduro, fresh elections will be triggered.

But if the vote were to be held after 10 January - in the last two years of Mr Maduro's mandate - he would be replaced by his vice-president and supporter, Aristobulo Isturiz.

The referendum could also be delayed by legal challenges launched by government supporters.

On Tuesday, government officials asked the electoral authorities to suspend the opposition coalition behind the recall referendum for alleged fraud.

They said that thousands of names on the recall petition belonged to dead people.

It is not clear at this point what effect a possible suspension of the opposition coalition would have on the drive for the recall referendum.