Venezuela’s opposition cleared an initial hurdle in its promise to hold a referendum on the rule of President Nicolas Maduro, with the national electoral council approving the release of a form used to gather signatures.
The opposition now has 30 days to collect the 1 percent of registered voters, said Luis Emilio Rondon, a member of the electoral body, on the Globovision network. The national electoral council said the opposition needs to get signatures from 197,978 voters across the country.
After winning a majority of Congress in elections late last year, the opposition has seen most of its initiatives blocked by Maduro and a Supreme Court he appointed right after the elections. After winning 112 of 167 seats, the opposition pledged to free political prisoners, unwind more than a decade worth of socialist controls on the economy and seek the removal of Maduro within six months.
“It’s a democratic mechanism that is supported by 70 percent of the country,” opposition governor and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said in a statement on Tuesday. “They can’t take away the right of the people to decide.”
The opposition will suspend a march that had been scheduled for Wednesday once it receives the forms from the electoral council, Capriles said.
Maduro has battled low approval ratings as Venezuelans face shortages and triple-digit inflation in the wake of declining oil prices that have sapped government revenue. The economy will likely contract 8 percent this year after declining 5.7 percent last year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Should the 1 percent threshold of registered voters sign on in the next month, the opposition must then work to collect signatures from 20 percent of the electorate before the national electoral council can authorize a vote on whether or not a referendum on Maduro’s rule should be held, opposition lawmaker Milagro Valero said.