Puebla, Mexico, September 22, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s electoral authority officially ruled out holding a recall referendum in 2016 on Wednesday, despite months of protests by opposition groups.
In a long anticipated announcement, the National Electoral Council (CNE) presented its roadmap to a presidential recall referendum. Opposition groups staged nationwide protests last week calling for the release of the roadmap, though the final outcome fell short of what they were demanding. According to the CNE, the vote will not be possible until “halfway through the first quarter of 2017” at the earliest.
The move immediately sparked condemnation from opposition leaders. In a statement calling for fresh protests, the largest opposition coalition, the MUD, labelled the CNE’s roadmap a “violation of the constitution”.
“We reject this unconstitutional act, and warn the public there will be massive, energetic, nationwide protests in defence of the constitution,” they said in a statement.
Why Are the MUD Unhappy With the Roadmap?
Since the start of the year, the opposition has been demanding a recall referendum that could force President Nicolas Maduro from office before he begins the final two years of his term on January 10. If a referendum is held before that date and the opposition garners more votes than Maduro won in 2013, new presidential elections will be held. However, if the president loses a referendum after that date, he’ll simply be replaced by his vice president.
Under the CNE’s latest roadmap, a recall referendum before the January 10 cut off point might now be impossible. Yet this is not the only detail of the roadmap that has frustrated the opposition.
According to the CNE, the opposition will be required to collected signatures from 20 percent of the national electorate between October 26 and October 28. This figure accounts for roughly 4 million Venezuelans. If they are successful, the signatures will be reviewed by CNE officials the following month.
However, the CNE also tacked on an additional requirement that the 20 percent of signatures be collected from each state. A state by state percentage count would likely force the MUD to collect significantly more signatures, particularly outside their own electoral strongholds. In the lead up to the 2004 recall referendum against Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, the state by state percentage count had not been a requirement, and the opposition only managed to secure around 2 million signatures.
However, the state by state count is not the only move to anger the opposition. The MUD has also accused the CNE of providing too few electoral stations. Under Chavez, access to voting stations was dramatically increased in nationwide elections. In the decade between 2002 and 2012, the number of voting stations in national elections soared from around 8,000 to 14,000. For the upcoming recall referendum, the opposition had petitioned the CNE for 20,000 voting booths.
However, according to the CNE’s statement Wednesday, the upcoming recall vote will only feature 1,356 voting centres nationwide, with a total of 5,392 individual voting booths. In the last nationwide elections in December 2015, the CNE distributed more than 14,500 voting centres and 40,000 individual booths.
Responding to the CNE’s roadmap, MUD General Secretary Jesus Torrealba accused Maduro of shying away from an early vote.
“The government is scared to face the people,” he said in a press conference.
Maduro supporters have hit back by accusing the MUD itself of slowing the recall process.Wednesday’s announcement itself was originally slated to be made by the CNE last week, but the electoral authority put off the decision after it said it was forced to close its offices nationwide. At the time, they cited fears their employees could be attacked by opposition protesters.
Earlier this year the CNE said preparations for the referendum had been slowed by widespread irregularities in a preliminary petition. The electoral authority said in June over 600,000 signatures submitted by the opposition were invalid, and included the names of the deceased, minors, and felons.
According to pro-government legislator Edwin Rojas, the recall referendum was “stillborn … from the moment it was infected with fraudulent signatures.”
Speaking to private broadcaster Venevision, he said the MUD was trying to blame the CNE for its own failings.
“The MUD can not blame anyone for their own ineptitude, so this year there’s no referendum,” he said.