HAVANA TIMES — Starting Wednesday, the Venezuelan opposition has been collecting signatures to request a referendum that would put an end to Nicolas Maduro’s presidency, not unlike the one held in 2004 when Hugo Chavez was president, DPA reported.
The initiative began early in the morning at hundreds of points around the country. The main collection point in Caracas, located at Brion Square, saw long lines of people.
Signature collection points were set up in the capital cities of the country’s 23 different regions.
The effort was set in motion hours after the National Electoral Council (CNE) presented the opposition with the official form where the signatures are to be collected. In this first stage, a total of 195,721 signatures, one percent of the electorate, are to be collected.
These signatures are required to approve the holding of the signature collection effort. Once approved, around four million will be required to force a recall referendum vote on Maduro’s presidency.
The Democratic Unity Table (MUD) announced that a protest planned for today, to demand that the CNE deliver the official form, was cancelled once the document was presented and that the rally points were converted into signature collection places.
The MUD executive secretary Jesus Torrealba reported that there is strict schedule for delivering the collected signatures to the CNE for verification.
“We are aware that these signatures will be collected in record time, because people want a change in government,” he told reporters.
The CNE announced it could accept the collected signatures up to 30 days from the start of the initiative, but the main proponent of the referendum, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, declared the needed figure would be reached within “hours.”
On the form, signatories must include personal information related to the voting districts where they are registered. In addition to this, they must have their fingerprints taken.
Capriles was at the main collection center in the state of Miranda, where he is governor. He signed the document and showed it to a crowd in the midst of applause.
“Our expectations have been met. I knew the people would respond and, together, we’re going to find a way out of the crisis, we’re going to pull Venezuela out of the crisis, which is what the majority of Venezuelans want. With this show of support, I have no doubt we can bring about this democratic, constitutional and electoral option to get out of the crisis,” he said.
He added that the referendum is a great opportunity to impel change in the country and “avoid social upheaval or a coup d’etat.”
“Let me say to the government that it should not close down the democratic road to change, because it is playing with the patience of Venezuelans. It’s adding fuel to the fire. This country is heading towards social upheaval or a coup,” he warned.
Representative Jose Miguel Olivares reported that, once the signatures have been collected and submitted to the CNE, the electoral entity will verify the signatures and those who signed the petition will be asked to appear somewhere to confirm their vote.
During the second stage of the process, the MUD will be required to collect nearly four million signatures. This will force the holding of a referendum and the CNE will be obliged to set a date. The opposition hopes it can be held this year.
Venezuela has already made use of this mechanism, when in 2004 it held a referendum against Chavez, who came out victorious and later won two elections.
The Venezuelan government is Cuba’s chief political and economic ally.