Venezuela’s election board said on Monday the opposition successfully collected 1 percent of voter signatures in every state in the first phase of their push for a referendum to recall socialist President Nicolas Maduro. But council head Tibisay Lucena asked for a judicial probe into some apparent cases of voter identity fraud, and did not name a date for the next phase, to collect 20 percent of signatures. The timing is crucial because if Maduro were to lose a referendum this year, as polls indicate he would due to an economic crisis, that would trigger a new presidential vote, giving the opposition a chance to end 17 years of socialism. But should he lose a referendum next year, Maduro, 53, would be replaced by his vice president, maintaining the Socialist Party in power until the OPEC nation’s next presidential election scheduled for the end of 2018.
Opposition leaders are demanding Lucena set a date for the collection of 20 percent – about 4 million signatures – needed next to trigger the actual referendum. “Only one step remaining,” tweeted opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara. “The better Venezuela is coming.”
Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential race and has been the main driver of the recall push, called for rallies later this week to pressure for the next phase.
Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also urged Venezuela “not to play a game of delay” over the referendum.