Venezuela Lawmakers Call for Recall Vote, Renewed Protests

  • Lawmakers demand recall referendum on President Maduro
  • Opposition lawmakers also want to shortern presidential term

Venezuelan opposition parties united to call for a referendum to oust President Nicolas Maduro and renewed protests starting this Saturday to get him to leave office before his term ends in 2019.

Lawmakers, led by Jesus “Chuo” Torrealba, outlined a three-pronged campaign to reporters in Caracas Tuesday that they would seek to shorten term limits through a constitutional amendment, launch the recall referendum and mount a campaign to pressure Maduro into resigning.

“The current state of the country demands that we place greater emphasis on mobilization and pressure,” Torrealba said, calling a for national protest against Maduro on Saturday.

Widespread discontent over triple-digit inflation and severe shortages of consumer staples propelled Venezuela’s fractious opposition alliance to a landslide victory in December’s congressional elections. The dozen-odd party coalition promised to find legal means to unseat Maduro in the first half of 2016, but a fight-back by Maduro’s administration has narrowed their majority and thwarted their legislative agenda.

The National Assembly is already weighing multiple bills that would shorten presidential terms from six to four years, sparking presidential elections by the year’s end. Opposition figures, such as two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, have begun crisscrossing the country to drum-up support for the campaign to oust Maduro.

Fight Back

The beleaguered president late Tuesday made it quite clear that he wasn’t about to take the challenge to his rule lying down.

“The opposition announced today five ways to oust the government,” the president said in a national television broadcast. “Maduro will never leave, because Maduro is the people -- this is a personal matter and I’m well planted here in Miraflores.”

Yet the opposition will also have to contend with the legislature and judiciary as they push their agenda.

“The government will use its control of the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council to impede any constitutional path to regime change,” Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Agata Ciesielska wrote in a client note on Monday.

Venezuela’s high court and legislature have frequently clashed since the opposition took control. In January, the Supreme Court ordered four lawmakers to stand down for alleged fraud, and last month it overturned congress’ decision to deny Maduro’s bid for emergency decree powers.

Facing a “barricade” in the courts, Torrealba said it made “no sense” for the opposition to select a signal mechanism. “Rather than divide us by what route to take, we decided to unite ourselves and activate a path of fighting.”

A recall referendum -- a tactic launched unsuccessfully against Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez -- is likely to be a long process. The opposition would need to gather about 4 million signatures to activate the process and once the vote does happen, the opposition needs to exceed the number of votes Maduro won in his 2013 election.

Still, the referendum could ultimately allow the opposition to break Venezuela’s political stalemate, according to Eurasia’s Grais-Targow and Ciesielska.

“A recall referendum effort will provide the opposition with a means of mobilizing the population around the idea of regime change and will give them some leverage over the government, even if limited,” they wrote.

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