Venezuela: Opposition insists recall referendum will be held in 2016

The timing of the recall is critical because recalling Maduro in 2016 will trigger fresh elections. Polls suggest he would lose given discontent over product shortages and triple-digit inflation. (Wikipedia) Photograph:( Others )

Reuters Caracas, Venezuela Aug 10, 2016, 02.41 AM (IST)

On Tuesday , the Venezuelan opposition slammed a timeline for a potential recall vote against President Nicolas Maduro that appeared to make a vote unlikely this year, which opposition leaders said is an effort to favour the ruling Socialist Party.

"There will be a recall referendum here and there will be a recall referendum this year, in 2016, because it is technically possible, because it is politically pertinent and because it is socially indispensable," said opposition leader Jesus Torrealba at a hastily-organized news conference.

The timing of the recall is critical because recalling Maduro in 2016 will trigger fresh elections. Polls suggest he would lose given discontent over product shortages and triple-digit inflation.

A recall next year, however, would lead Maduro to be replaced by his vice president, who would serve the remainder of his term through early 2019.

A petition drive to collect signatures from 20 per cent of registered voters, the next step in the recall process, would "probably" take place in late October, National Elections Council President Tibisay Lucena said in televised comments, adding this would depend on whether the opposition has properly requested the vote.

Lucena said the October date was just an estimate, and the precise date would not be known for several weeks.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 election against Maduro, said Lucena does not dare tell the electorate outright that the CNE is planning on holding the elections in 2017.

"She doesn't dare tell the Venezuelans that there will not be a recall referendum this year. She doesn't dare. The only ones who dare are the people from the PSUV Socialist Party. She doesn't dare nor do the others. They issue a statement sometimes here or there to generate desperation but she doesn't dare face the country and tell them there will not be a recall referendum because she knows very well that to block our country's democratic path, the little democratic window that is left, would put Venezuela in a very dangerous situation, it puts the country in a more difficult situation, it puts Venezuela in a situation with greater tension-- which is what we don't want. And that is why we are fighting for a peaceful solution, an electoral, constitutional and democratic solution," he warned.

Under the time frame presented, a referendum could not take place before December at the earliest. More likely, it would take place in mid-February, the end of the 90-day period in which the council must call the vote.

During the current recall effort, the council has always taken the maximum amount of time allowed under regulation.

Opposition leaders swiftly condemned the announcement, saying the elections council was stalling the process for Maduro's benefit. The council has been accused for years of favouring the Socialist Party.

Rondon said the CNE is acting against the constitutional principles that underlie the regulations.

"In light of the complex situation the country is going through, I believe it is indispensable that the electoral entity clearly respect the lapses established in the regulations. The National Electoral Council should act within the framework of the (underlying) principle of speed that controls the regulations to fulfil with he constitutional obligation that guarantees that Venezuelans can express their will without outside interference," he added.

Opposition leaders are calling for a nationwide march to the capital of Caracas on September 1 to demand the council set a firm date for the next signature drive.

The process could be slowed further if the council rejects significant portions of signatures as it has in the past.

Opposition leaders say that during a preliminary signature drive in July for this same recall effort, the council rejected more than half a million signatures for reasons ranging from unclear handwriting to smudged fingerprints.

Socialist Party leaders have dismissed the recall effort as fraudulent and noted that the elections council found nearly 10,000 signatures corresponding to people who were deceased.