Venezuela‘s opposition called on Monday for mass rallies nationwide on Oct. 12 to push for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro this year as they seek to oust his Socialist Party in an early presidential election, Reuters reports:
Maduro’s term in office runs until 2019. But if Maduro lost a recall this year, as polls suggest he would given the country’s severe economic crisis, presidential elections would be called under the Constitution. If next year, the vice president would take over and serve out his remaining two years. Venezuela’s electoral council last week said the soonest a referendum could be held, if at all, would be early 2017. That would effectively guarantee that the Socialist Party remains in power until 2019, even as food shortages and soaring prices have many Venezuelans skipping meals.
The elections board has stipulated that 20 percent of voters in each of the country’s 23 states must sign a petition Oct. 26-28 supporting a referendum for it to go ahead. The opposition argues the 20 percent threshold needs only to be met nationally, representing about 4 million signatures, and says the electoral council is just a puppet of an increasingly authoritarian government.
The Maduro government has no intention of holding a fair referendum, but the delay may have provided the international community with a positive option, writes Christopher Sabatini, a former Latin America program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Some in the fractured opposition have argued for pressing on with the signature-gathering drive as a show of force, while others said the electoral body’s decision confirms what they have argued all along: that working within a system controlled by the ruling party is pointless, and what Venezuela needs is a new round of street protests, The Washington Post adds.
“It is time for civil disobedience,” former presidential candidate Maria Corina Machado (right) said recently on Twitter.
Political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas said the outcome of the three-day signature drive in October could determine Venezuela’s fate for the next three years, AP adds.
“The government is gambling everything on this, and the opposition is, too,” Pantoulas said. “If the opposition doesn’t get the 20 percent, it will have lost its most powerful weapon. How are you going to ask a president to resign if you couldn’t even get 20 percent of the electorate on board?”
Even as arbitrary detentions and abuses have increased, the U.S. has not widened its net beyond the seven officials whose assets were frozen in a March 2015 executive order; the State Department still says “more than 60” Venezuelans are subject to visa bans, similar to what it was saying a year and a half ago. For starters, it should target more officials for rampant public corruption, which Obama’s executive order also covers. Among other things, that would further chill the willingness of financial institutions to do business with an increasingly unsavory government — one that already teeters on default. RTWT