Venezuelan Electoral Council Sets Recall Referendum Process in Motion

Despite representing a constitutional avenue to end Maduro’s term, the hardline opposition has remained noncommittal.

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CNE HQ in Venezuela
According to the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, voters may solicit the recall of a public official’s term once it is past its midway point. (@cneesvenezuela / Twitter)
By José Luis Granados Ceja
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Mexico City, Mexico, January 19, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s electoral authority approved three requests to initiate the procedure for a recall referendum, marking the beginning of a long constitutional process that could eventually see President Nicolás Maduro recalled from office.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) announced Monday on Twitter that it had accepted petitions to promote a recall effort from three groups: the Venezuelan Movement for the Recall (Mover), All United for the Recall Referendum, and the National Executive Committee of Confedejunta alongside the Committee of National and International Democracy.

According to Article 72 of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, voters may revoke a public official’s term once said official has served half of their term. In order to trigger the vote, the petitioners must secure valid signatures comprising 20 percent of the electorate that voted for the official, in this case from the national voter list. The recall referendum must then see over 25 percent of eligible voters take part, and the official is recalled if there are more votes for it than he/she received when elected.

The CNE vowed to release a schedule for the different steps in the coming days. If a successful recall vote is held before January 10, 2023, it will trigger a snap presidential election within a 30-day lapse. If it happens after, the vice president will take over as president for the remainder of the term.

Representatives from Venezuela’s main opposition forces had a subdued reaction to the CNE’s announcement, with spokespeople expressing concern that the Maduro government’s control over the country’s political institutions would make the recall an uphill and ultimately futile effort.

Despite representing a constitutional and democratic avenue to end Maduro’s term, the recall effort also puts the hardline opposition, which remains wedded to the “interim presidency” of Juan Guaidó, in a difficult position.

Guaidó’s claim to the presidency, recognized only by a handful of countries, rests on the notion that the 2018 vote that saw Maduro reelected to another six-year term was illegitimate. An effort by the opposition to oust Maduro via a recall would serve as a de-facto acknowledgement of his 2018 reelection.

The US-backed politician himself has been noncommittal on the possibility of a recall referendum effort, arguing that it could serve to strengthen his political opponents. If Maduro were to survive a recall vote, the remainder of his term would be considered ratified under the Constitution, rendering Guaidó’s claim totally moot.

For his part, Maduro and other high-ranking officials have yet to comment on the initiative. In a November interview, deputy and Chavista heavyweight Diosdado Cabello called the recall process a “thorny prospect” that would trigger opposition infighting.

The Venezuelan Constitution places a high bar in order to trigger the recall, in this instance requiring more than 4 million signatures. Opposition political analyst Francisco Rodríguez argued that the effort to collect the necessary signatures will take place under challenging circumstances.

In the recent regional elections, the main opposition parties, even when taken together, fall short of the 4.2 million signatures needed to activate the recall vote. Even if the referendum took place, analysts point out that anti-government factions would be hard pressed to overcome the 6.25 million votes Maduro received in 2018, an unlikely scenario given the change in the voting population due to emigration.

CNE Vice-President Enrique Márquez, representing opposition forces, admitted that those seeking a recall referendum faced a “difficult” path forward.

The Venezuelan opposition was stymied in its efforts to initiate the recall referendum in 2016, belatedly turning to the constitutional mechanism after failing to oust Maduro through illegal means, only to return to violent regime-change efforts a year later.

Venezuela last held such a process in 2004 during the presidency of the late Hugo Chávez that saw voters reject the recall by a 60-40 margin. The challenge ultimately served to strengthen pro-government political forces and contributed to the radicalization of the Chávez government.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.