- Petition signers face hours of waiting in the capital Caracas
- President Maduro has vowed that no vote will happen this year
Supporters of Venezuela’s opposition who are petitioning for a recall referendum on the rule of President Nicolas Maduro faced long lines in the capital, Caracas, Monday as they began a process that required them to appear in person to validate their signatures.
Thousands of petition signers from central Miranda state began lining up in the El Hatillo municipality of greater Caracas at one of the 125 centers set up nationwide by the National Electoral Council, or CNE. By 1:30 p.m. local time, only about 530 of the 4,000 people in line had been able to validate their signatures, with many older and disabled people expressing frustration at the slow pace of validation.
“The process has been really complicated,” said Miguel Castejon, a opposition member of the Primero Justica political party who was helping coordinate the process at the center, said in an interview. “We have only two machines for all these people.”
Opposition Governor Henrique Capriles urged the 1.35 million Venezuelans who are eligible to validate their signatures this week to brave the lines and said the opposition has the support for a referendum in 2016. The two-time presidential candidate and other opposition leaders have accused the government of trying to squash the referendum or delay it until 2017, which would allow the vice president to take over if Maduro is recalled.
If approved this year, a successful recall vote would force the country to hold fresh elections.
“The referendum is going to happen this year because that’s what the majority wants,” Capriles said at a news conference, adding that they had nearly seven times the 194,000 validated signatures needed to move to the next step of the referendum process. “There are reports of lines at the validation centers, but these are the only enjoyable lines in Venezuela.”
Maria Teresa Alsina, a 54-year-old saleswoman, said that she arrived at the center in El Hatillo at 8:00 a.m. in the morning and had not yet been able to validate her signature as of 12:40 p.m.
“Even with the rain, we got out our umbrellas, and here I am,” she said in an interview. “The hunger or tiredness don’t matter. I came here to validate my signature because my choice needs to be respected. I’ve got two children and they’re both leaving the country. I’m going to end up alone here.”
Maduro, who has seen his support drop to record lows as Venezuelans face the worst recession in decades and ongoing shortages of basic goods and food, said last week that no referendum would occur this year because the opposition waited too long to start the process. Eurasia Group, a global research and consulting firm, last week wrote that the government had enough tools at its disposal to delay the vote into next year.