HAVANA TIMES – The Venezuelan opposition condemned Friday the suspension of the collection of signatures to trigger a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro, describing it as a “coup” against the electoral right of Venezuelans.
While the opposition called for nationwide mobilizations on Wednesday to protest the measure, the government applauded the ruling as confirmation that the consultation will not take place this year, when it involved a potential change of government.
International reactions also were heard, with the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, warning that the time has come to take action against the government of Maduro, while the United States expressed concern about the suspension of the recall referendum process.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the main promoter of the referendum, reported that the suspension of the collection of signatures is a “coup d’état” against the right to vote of Venezuelans. He warned that the decision will only worsen the crisis facing the country.
Capriles called on Venezuelans to demand a restoration of the constitutional order which he said was broken by the decision of the National Electoral Council when it suspended the attempt to collect the signatures of 20 percent of the voter registration rolls, scheduled for next week.
“With yesterday’s decision a coup took place against all Venezuelans. What took place is what we’d been alerting, what needed to be avoided, because it will only deepen the crisis we Venezuelans face,” Capriles said in a press conference in which he spoke as the spokesperson for the opposition Democratic Unity Alliance (MUD).
Capriles said that the opposition had warned it would act accordingly if this happened. “It’s time to defend the Constitution,” he said.
For his part, the president of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos, said the legislature will hold a special session on Sunday where he will address a number of pertinent issues.
“We will not leave any topic untouched, from the abandonment of the presidential office to Maduro’s possible dual nationality,” he said alluding to several allegations that Maduro was born in Colombia.
The Electoral Council announced its decision Thursday night, complying with a court ruling that annulled the opposition signature gathering effort (previously set for October 26-28) to request a referendum on the Maduro presidency.
The Council decision came on the heels of criminal court rulings in the regions of Aragua, Bolivar and Carabobo, which decided to cancel the signature collection process in response to a complaint of alleged fraud with signatures collected back in April in the first phase of the process.
“Justice begins to be had in the most gigantic electoral fraud in the history of Venezuela. This confirms that the referendum will not take place in 2016”, said Jorge Rodriguez, the head of the commission signature verification commission and Mayor of Caracas.
The politician added that the opposition usurped the identity of thousands of people and filed false signatures, although the Electoral Council confirmed and verified the signatures collected in April and ratified in June.
If a referendum took place this year, the half-way point of Maduro’s six year term, and he lost, the Electoral Council should have called for new presidential elections. If a referendum takes place in the course of 2017, and if Maduro was to lose, his mandate would be revoked but completed by the vice president in charge until January 2019.
US State Department spokesperson John Kirby, argued against the suspension. “We are deeply concerned about the decision of the National Electoral Council of Venezuela to stop the recall referendum process and believe that the Electoral Council prevents the Venezuelan people from exercising an important constitutional right.”
Meanwhile, OAS secretary general Luis Almagro lambasted the Government of Maduro, noting that the time has come to take action.
“Only dictatorships deprive citizens of their rights, fail to recognize the legislature and hold political prisoners,” Almagro wrote on his Twitter account. “It is time to take concrete action,” he added.