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Venezuela’s opposition rallies 1.1 million signatures for recall referendum

Latest move to cut short President Nicolás Maduro’s mandate draws widespread support among public

Opponents of President Nicolás Maduro sign the petition for a recall referendum.
Opponents of President Nicolás Maduro sign the petition for a recall referendum. EFE

Venezuela’s opposition says it has taken an important step toward cutting short the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro, gathering more than 1.1 million signatures for a petition for a recall referendum on the president.

Under Venezuela’s Constitution, presidents can be removed from office by means of a referendum once they have served half their term. At this stage, 1% of those on the electoral roll, or 197,978 registered voters, must sign the petition to start the process.

The recall referendum has to be this year. If it’s not this year, there’s no point

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles

The next stage requires 20% of voters, almost four million people, to sign a second petition in order to trigger the referendum. For the referendum to be successful, an equal or greater number of voters than those who elected Maduro would have to cast their vote in favor of the recall. Maduro won the 2013 election with 7.6 million votes. “The recall referendum has to be this year. If it’s not this year, there’s no point,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Wednesday evening.

Opposition leaders say years of mismanagement by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) government, founded by former president Hugo Chávez, have driven the economy into the ground. Venezuela has been hit by power cuts and soaring inflation that have sparked riots and looting throughout the country in recent days.

President Nicolás Maduro blames the El Niño weather phenomenon for a drought that has seen water levels at the Guri dam’s Simón Bolívar hydroelectric power station – which produces 70% of the country’s power – to fall to just above the “collapse” line. Again, the opposition accuses the government, which took over the electricity sector in 2007, of mismanagement, failing to invest in alternative electricity generation and of corruption.

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The possibility of a recall referendum has focused minds in Venezuela’s broad opposition on working together to push through other reforms, such as reducing the presidential term from six to four years, which would require changing the Constitution.

Earlier this month, Venezuela’s Supreme Court rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to cut President Maduro's term, saying that any amendment could not be applied retroactively to his current term.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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