Leaders of Venezuela’s opposition on Friday angrily called on citizens to take to the streets after the country’s electoral commission suspended a drive for a referendum to remove President Nicolás Maduro. Speaking to a packed news conference, Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate, described the commission’s decision as a “coup” intended to keep Mr. Maduro in power. “We warned that this could happen, and this is exactly what we wanted to avoid with the referendum,” Mr. Capriles said. “This only deepens the crisis that Venezuelans are living through.” The battle over the recall movement appeared to escalate the conflict between the opposition and Mr. Maduro’s leftist government. Although the opposition controls the country’s congress, Mr. Maduro and his allies dominate all the other institutions of government, including the courts and the electoral commission. Mr. Maduro, blamed by many Venezuelans for the country’s economic collapse, has described the recall effort as a coup attempt.
He was elected in 2013 to succeed Hugo Chávez, the charismatic former army officer who had founded the populist leftist movement. Mr. Chávez’s many ambitious programs were financed with revenue from oil, Venezuela’s main export. But the global collapse of petroleum prices helped send the economy into a tailspin, with shortages of food, medicine and electricity.
The opposition had seen the recall referendum as its only legal path to challenge Mr. Maduro’s increasingly autocratic rule. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the court itself could approve the national budget, bypassing the congress altogether.
“We put up with abuses and we asked the people for patience, but they have crossed the line,” said a furious Mr. Capriles, who is typically more measured in his public remarks. In a show of unity, he was surrounded by the leaders of other opposition parties.