Opposition Must Collect 20% of Recall Referendum Signatures per State

The Venezuelan Supreme Court has ruled that the opposition must collect signatures from 20 percent of voters in each of Venezuela's twenty-four states in order to go forward with a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. 

By Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas

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Venezuela’s Supreme Court has waded into the legal debate on the presidential recall referendum. (Archive)
Venezuela’s Supreme Court has waded into the legal debate on the presidential recall referendum. (Archive)
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Caracas, October 18, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Venezuelan opposition must collect signatures from 20 percent of voters in each of the nation's twenty-four states in order to go forward with a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. 

The decision puts an end to weeks of speculation over whether the 20 percent needed to activate the plebiscite must be secured from the overall national electorate or from the electoral list of each state.

On October 26, polling stations will open for three days across Venezuela to give citizens the chance to register their support for the national referendum, which could potentially cut short incumbent President Nicolas Maduro’s term in office.  

According to national legal norms for requesting referenda, at least 20 percent of the registered electorate must turn out to back the plebiscite at the end of October for it to move forward. 

However, over recent weeks attorneys have been increasingly divided over the interpretation of the norms, which they say fail to specify whether the 20 percent must be collected at a national or state level. 

In its ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court waded into the debate, stating, “The failure to collect this percentage from any of the states or the Capital District, will render the call for the presidential recall referendum as nullified”. 

The high court issued the declaration in response to an official legal request presented by Erick Alexander Ramirez Trujillo of the “New Revolutionary Path” party to interpret articles 17 and 29 of the regulations for soliciting referenda. 

At the end of September, the interpretation of the norms shot to the centre of a national legal dispute, when constitutional lawyer Herman Escarra suggested that a demand for a recall referendum would not be legitimate if the opposition failed to gain the minimum support across all states. The attorney was responding to comments made by a dean at the National Electoral Council who publicly asserted that the plebiscite would still go ahead even if one state failed to reach the 20 percent threshold.  

“For me the real problem is what happens if the 20 percent isn’t secured in three states, but the sum of all the other states equals the 20% on a national level? When there are doubts, constitutional methodology indicates that it’s necessary to err on the side of democracy and liberty,” explained Escarra. 

“The vote of a voter in Achaguas counts just as much as that of someone in the barrio of La Bombilla in Petare. That’s why it’s necessary to get a decision from the TSJ,” he added. 

Although the ruling makes no difference to the amount of votes that must be collected by the opposition– approximately 3.9 million in total– it will curtail the leverage of states with larger than average populations. If counted on a national level, then 60 percent of voters across Venezuela’s four most populated states would effectively be able to overrule the electorate in the remaining twenty.  

Monday’s decision means that states such as Zulia and Miranda, which both have more than 2 million inhabitants, will not be able to override sparsely populated states such as Barinas on whether the referendum goes ahead.  

Nonetheless, the Venezuelan opposition reacted angrily to news of the ruling on Tuesday, labelling it a deliberate manoeuvre to block the recall referendum. 

In a statement via its official Twitter account, the political party “Justice First” said that it rejected the decision, while the general secretary of the opposition coalition, the MUD, Jesus Torrealba told journalists that the bloc would refuse to recognise the ruling. 

“We will not obey any dictate that goes against the Constitution… The only requirement for calling a recall referendum is gathering at least 20% of the electoral register,”  said Torrealba.