Venezuela’s opposition has demanded authorities move forward on a referendum to force Nicolás Maduro from office, amid complaints that the government is digging in its heels to delay the process. Groups of opposition members attempted to march to the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE) in Caracas to demand it set a date by which they would have to collect signatures of nearly 4 million voters to trigger a presidential recall. Police and national guard barricades blocked the way, leading marchers to retreat. “We did not come to confront the police, just to demand a date for the 20%,” said Henrique Capriles, a leading opposition figure and former presidential candidate, referring the percentage of the electorate they would have. The CNE had been expected to announce on Tuesday whether referendum organizers had managed to collect enough valid signatures – 1% of the electorate – to put a process in motion to force a recall vote on Maduro. But late on Tuesday, officials said they would meet on 1 August to further discuss the issue.
“We expect you to give us answers on Monday,” warned Capriles, addressing the head of the electoral council, Tibisay Lucerna. “If you don’t you will be responsible for what happens in this country. People don’t want violence but the patience of the people is running out.”
Once the signatures are validated, the opposition will have to launch a second drive to get 3.9 million people – 20% of registered voters – to sign the recall petition in three days to formally trigger a recall.
Momentum to cut short Maduro’s six-year term has been building as the oil-rich country sinks further into an economic morass, with unbridled inflation, chronic shortages of basic goods and sky-high crime rates. A poll by Venebarómetro found that 88% of “likely” voters in a recall would choose to oust Maduro.