Opposition Protests Supreme Court Ruling as CNE Divides over Referendum Date

Venezuelan opposition supporters took to the streets Wednesday to protest a Supreme Court ruling restricting demonstrations near the country’s electoral authority due to violence.

By Lucas Koerner

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Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles has called for further protests outside of the CNE in violation of the TSJ order. (Courtesy of Prensa Miranda)
Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles has called for further protests outside of the CNE in violation of the TSJ order. (Courtesy of Prensa Miranda)
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Caracas, May 26, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan opposition supporters took to the streets Wednesday in protest of a Supreme Court ruling restricting demonstrations near the country’s electoral authority due to violence.

On Monday, the high court handed down a protection order prohibiting unauthorized protests in the vicinity of National Electoral Council (CNE) offices throughout the country.

The court order was requested by CNE employees in response to last week’s violent opposition protests that saw demonstrators attack unarmed police officers as well as vandalize public student housing in downtown Caracas.

The workers warned that these protests place them in “situations of risk that threaten and on occasions violate [their] right to free movement, work, and protection from the state”.

The ruling has been roundly condemned by Venezuelan opposition leaders, who dismissed it as a violation of the Constitution and convened new protests against the TSJ on Wednesday.

“We didn’t come here to block roads, we just want a change in government, we want to fulfill the Constitution to remove not only the president, but all of the shameless people that are in the government,” declared Miranda governor Henrique Capriles who led around 500 supporters to the offices of the Second Court of Administrative Disputes in the wealthy eastern Caracas municipality of Chacao.

The former presidential candidate called for new protests outside the CNE in defiance of the high court ruling in order to pressure the electoral body to accelerate the process of validating the signatures of 1% of the electorate collected by the opposition coalition earlier this month and unveil a timetable for the recall referendum.

The CNE, for its part, has rejected the opposition mobilizations, vowing that it would not bow to “pressure of one kind or another”.

Contrary to opposition allegations that the body is stalling the referendum process, CNE Vice-President Sandra Oblitas insisted that “there is no delay” and that the signature validation is a “clearly established process” that must be completed before the timetable can be announced.

The statements by the vice-president were, however, contradicted by CNE Rector Luis Emilio Rondon– the opposition representative among the body’s five directors– who criticized the long lapses in the verification process and suggested that the referendum could be held “towards the end of October” provided that all steps were completed.

The rector also denied claims by El Libertador Mayor Jorge Rodriguez that 190,000 of the signatures collected by the opposition belonged to deceased Venezuelans, confirming that “it is not possible for any political actor to access the signature sheets”.

Rondon’s announcement of a tentative referendum date was rejected by Oblitas and fellow CNE Rector Tania D’ Amelio, who slammed the official’s remarks as “an error and irresponsibility before the country” and accused him of “being part of a political game”.

Under the Venezuelan constitution, a recall referendum must be held this year for new presidential elections to be triggered.

If the referendum is held after this year, the vice-president will serve out the remaining two years of the presidential term.