venezuela authorities to rule on referendum call
Last Updated : GMT 12:45:25
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Venezuela authorities to rule on referendum call

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Emiratesvoice, emirates voice Venezuela authorities to rule on referendum call

A member of Venezuela's opposition waves a national flag i
Caracas - Arab Today

Venezuelan electoral authorities are due to announce Monday whether they will let the opposition pursue its bid for a referendum on removing the crisis-hit country's President Nicolas Maduro from power.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) left the opposition hanging last Tuesday after its original deadline for a ruling on the matter passed.

That raised tensions in the volatile South American state, where an economic crisis has sparked violence and looting.

The council must rule on whether Maduro's opponents have successfully gathered the required 200,000 signatures on a petition for the leftist leader to face a recall vote.

The opposition needs a green light from the CNE to move on to the next stage of the long and winding process.

They want to oust a president they blame for food shortages, hyperinflation and mounting chaos gripping Venezuela.

Instead of giving them an answer Tuesday, the electoral authorities testily said they "will not accept pressure."

They scheduled a meeting for Monday to consider their auditors' report on the opposition's petition. The CNE said it would make an announcement around 2000 GMT.

The center-right coalition behind the referendum push, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), accuses the electoral authority of being in bed with Maduro.

But they are hoping pressure from Venezuelans desperate over the collapsing economy will force the government's hand.

"There are two options at this point: common sense and sanity, or the crisis drags on and the country is going to explode at any moment," said MUD lawmaker Julio Borges, the legislative majority leader.

"The whole country is counting on change."

- State of emergency -

But MUD, a fractious coalition, has struggled to rally mass protests.

Many Venezuelans are too busy standing in line for scarce food and basic goods.

Human Rights Watch said last week opposition supporters have been arrested and tortured for protesting.

Maduro has declared a state of emergency and given his military sweeping powers over food production and distribution.

Maduro's opponents are racing to force a referendum by January 10, the cutoff date to trigger new elections -- four years into the president's six-year term.

After that date, a successful recall vote would simply transfer power to Maduro's hand-picked vice-president.

A recent poll found 64 percent of Venezuelans would vote to remove Maduro.

But even if electoral authorities validate the initial recall petition, the opposition will still have to collect another four million signatures in just three days.

To win the ensuing recall referendum, Maduro's opponents would need more votes than he won the presidency with in 2013 — around 7.5 million.

Time appears to be on the president's side.

His allies have an arsenal of possible delaying strategies. They have filed more than 8,000 legal challenges against the recall petition and called on the electoral authorities to ban MUD for alleged fraud.

- Row over lawmakers -

Venezuela has sunk into crisis as global prices for its main export, oil, have collapsed.

Its economy is facing its third year of deep recession this year. Its inflation rate is the highest in the world.

The authorities recorded an inflation rate of 180 percent last year. The IMF forecasts it will top 700 percent this year.

The economic tailspin is threatening 17 years of socialist rule under Maduro and his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

The opposition won legislative elections in December, only to find its power stymied by the Supreme Court, which it says is also in Maduro's pocket.

The MUD defiantly reinstalled three of its lawmakers in the National Assembly last Thursday, ignoring a court decision to suspend them.

The move — which Maduro's camp wasted no time appealing — restores the opposition's powerful two-thirds majority in the legislature.

The Supreme Court barred the three lawmakers in January over allegations of electoral fraud. The opposition condemns the decision as a bald attempt to strip them of their super-majority.

Source: AFP

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