Puebla, Mexico, October 21, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s political opposition vowed Friday to stage renewed protests against the administration of President Nicolas Maduro, after the country’s electoral authority heeded a court order postponing the next phase of preparations for a presidential recall referendum.
On Thursday, state-level courts in Aragua, Bolivar, Carabobo, and Monagas issued injunctions halting the opposition's collection of signatures from 20 percent of voters in each state, scheduled for October 26, 27, and 28. The court orders come in response to revelations of widespread fraud in the opposition's prior collection of signatures from 1 percent of voters in each state as a condition to begin the recall process earlier this year.
In addition to 307,747 signatures lacking essential identifying information, 53,658 signatures presented irregularities, including 10,995 deceased persons, 9,333 nonexistent persons, 3,003 minors, and 1,335 felons. State courts have warned that the 1 percent of signatures collected in their states could be invalid due to the fraudulent signatures, preventing the opposition from going ahead with the next stage on a national level.
In a press conference Friday night, leaders of the main opposition coalition, the MUD, said snap protests will take place nationwide on Saturday, ahead of a larger demonstration Wednesday.
“Next Wednesday, we will take Venezuela from end to end, to every corner of the country,” said Miranda state governor and former MUD presidential candidate Henrique Capriles. The Miranda state governor also reiterated calls made earlier this year for the nation's armed forces to intervene and "enforce the constitution", though he failed to provide further details of what such military action might entail.
Small protests were already taking place in Caracas before the announcement, after other MUD leaders condemned Thursday’s referendum suspension.
Hardliners within the MUD have called for civil disobedience in response to the announcement.
"We will fight the struggle for change in the streets together with every sector of the country in national unity. #MaduroYouHaveLittleTimeLeft," stated far-right party Popular Will via its official Twitter account.
In 2014, Popular Will leader Leopoldo Lopez led months of violent anti-government protests, demanding the ouster of President Maduro. Over 40 people were killed, the majority of whom government supporters, state security forces, and innocent bystanders.
Meanwhile, top government officials have hit back at the opposition by accusing the MUD of failing to follow procedure.
“Justice has ordered them to fix (their recall petition),” said socialist legislator Diosdado Cabello.
Other socialist legislators have called for calm, and political dialogue.
“Dialogue should be the mechanism through which political, economic and social issues of concern to Venezuelan society should be resolved,” said legislator Jorge Rodriguez.
Similar comments have been issued by Maduro, who departed for an international trip within hours of the announcement of the suspension of the referendum drive.
"I call for calm, dialogue, peace, respect for justice and the law," Maduro said from Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, Venezuela's Supreme Court has upheld the regional court decisions, prompting the CNE to likewise suspend next week’s collection drive on Thursday. The move could mean the MUD will have to restart the entire process in the four states where fraud allegations surface. Such an outcome would be a major setback for the MUD, which has been aiming to organise the referendum before the end of the year. This goal has long been dismissed as unrealistic by the CNE, which announced last month that the plebiscite could be held no sooner than April.
The ultimate timing of the referendum is critical for the opposition.
If Maduro loses a vote before January 10, snap elections will be held, and the socialists would face the prospect of losing the office of president for the first time in 14 years. The last time the right-wing took power was during a short lived, US backed coup in 2002.
However, if the referendum takes place after January 10, Maduro will simply be replaced by his vice-president until regular elections are held in 2018.