Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, CNE, announced a roadmap on Tuesday for a possible recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro, outlining a timeline that must be followed by government opponents.
The steps required to trigger the vote as provided by the CNE's head official means that a vote won’t be possible until 2017.
The next step will grant a three-day window to the Venezuelan opposition, Democratic Unity or MUD coalition, to collect signatures from 20 percent of the electorate necessary to proceed with the referendum. Electoral authorities said that the signature drive for the 4 million signatures needed to lock in the referendum will “probably” take place at the end of October.
“If all electoral requirements are met, collection of the 20 percent of the necessary signatures to begin the referendum will begin at the end of October,” CNE President Tibisay Lucena stated during a press conference Tuesday.
Proponents of the recall referendum already collected signatures from 1 percent of registered voters to satisfy the first step in the process.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable, a coalition of ultra-right forces, submitted its initial petition for the recall referendum on May 2.
In June, the CNE announced that 605,727 of the submitted signatures were invalid due to widespread irregularities, including signatures from deceased and non-existent persons and minors.
"The referendum process in Venezuela has been controversial as close to 11,000 of the signatures collected were found to be from deceased persons," Lucena added.
The CNE is investigating these irregularities and has also denounced the MUD for threatening violence in order to speed up the recall process.
The CNE announcement that the vote will happen in January 2017 at the earliest means that if Maduro is removed in a recall vote, he would be replaced by his vice president and strong Chavista, Aristobulo Isturiz, who would serve out the last two years of Maduro’s term.
Leading up to Tuesday’s announcement, the country’s right-wing leaders had been calling for the referendum to happen before the end of 2016, which would trigger snap elections.
On Saturday, the MUD called on its supporters to take the streets on September 1 for nationwide protests demanding that the CNE set a date for the collection of 20 percent of signatures.
Prior opposition demonstrations earlier this year have resulted in violence, leading Venezuela's Supreme Court to issue a ban on protests in the vicinity of CNE offices at the behest of workers at the electoral institution.
During Tuesday's press conference, Lucena warned that the CNE would not bow to "political pressure".
"They are wasting their time those who believe that they can by way of political pressure come between the Electoral Authority and its will to uphold the law in defense of the Republic and the stability of the country," the CNE president affirmed.
Under the Venezuelan constitution, a recall referendum must be held this year for new presidential elections to be triggered. However, the right-wing opposition did not begin gathering signatures from citizens in support of the recall referendum until May.
Based on previous experiences, the process to hold a recall referendum is estimated to take several months from beginning to end, although there is no specific time frame due to the requirements and verifications needed prior to a vote.
With editing and additional reporting by Venezuelanalysis.com.