The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) made its much-awaited announcement last night on the second step of the recall referendum process against Maduro. The CNE outlined what the second step of the process will look like and when it will take place. The announcement has to do with the collection of signatures from 20% of registered voters who are in favour of holding a referendum against Maduro, which is the second step in Venezuela’s three-step referendum process.
Below, a quick summary of the CNE’s announcement:
- The second step of the referendum process will take place over three days: October 26, 27 and 28. Voting centers will be open from 8:00 AM -noon, and from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM.
- The opposition will need to collect 3,959,553 signatures in order to succeed in this step.
- The CNE has allotted 5,392 voting machines for the process. While the number of voting centers has yet to be confirmed, El Nacional claims to have access to information that suggests the machines will be spread out across 1,355 voting centers.
- Signatures must be collected from 20% of registered voters in each of the country’s 23 states (plus the capital district). In other words, in order for this step to be successful, the opposition must ensure that at least 20% of registered voters in each state participates in the proceedings.
- The CNE calculates that the actual recall referendum may take place “in the middle of the first trimester of 2017” (i.e., February or March).
The CNE’s demands place a high bar for successfully completing this second step. Immediate opposition reaction to the news last night centered on the low number of hours allotted for Venezuelans to participate in the process, the low number of voting machines and voting centers, as well as the requirement – in apparent contradiction to what is stated in Article 72 of the Constitution – that the signatures be collected per state.
CNE Confirms No Referendum in 2016
The biggest news of the night was arguably the announcement that even if the opposition managed to overcome the barriers set for the second step, the referendum will not take place this year. CNE regulation states that once the second step of the process is completed, the referendum must take place within ninety days. The announcement last night revealed that the CNE has taken that regulation to mean “after ninety days”.
The CNE issued a press release, part of which reads:
[After the second step is completed] begins the 90 day period states in the regulations that the body has to hold the referendum. So, the event could take place in the middle of the first trimester of 2017.
The news signals a fundamental shift in the nature of the referendum. Had the referendum been held before January 10, 2017 and Maduro lost, a presidential election would have been triggered, opening up the possibility of an end to 17 years of chavista rule in Venezuela. However, holding the referendum after January 10 ensures PSUV rule until at least 2019 because Maduro’s defeat would not trigger a presidential election: instead, the vice-president would become president.
Rector Rondon Decries CNE Announcement
Rector Luis Emilio Rondon, one of the five heads of the CNE and the only one widely recognized as being pro-opposition, spoke to reporters after last night’s announcement and harshly criticized the organization’s demands.
In particular, Rondon took issue with the fact that the CNE is requiring that the opposition collect signatures form 20% of registered voters in each state as opposed to from voters at the national level. Rondon said:
I’ve insisted that what we’re taking about here is the national circumscription. Asking for the 20% of signatures per each state is something that didn’t happen in the 2004 [recall attempt against Chavez]. I don’t understand the [CNE’s] legal reasons. I don’t agree with their decision, which is why I decided to not vote for it [“salvar mi voto”].
Rondon also said that the number of voting machines was too low given the amount of signatures the opposition has to collect.
Torrealba: MUD Cannot “Become Complicit” In Constitutional Violation
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) was left reeling after yesterday’s announcement, and reserved making their initial reaction public until this morning.
At a press conference in the early morning, Jesus Torrealba – the head of the MUD – suggested that the MUD might decide to not play along with the CNE’s demands given their highly questionable legal and constitutional nature. Torrealba said:
We cannot accept the violation of the Constitution. We cannot be complicit in the violation of the Constitution. We also cannot give up on the recall. We cannot say “I’m taking my ball and going home” and do the government the favour of not having to pay the political and historical cost of having to face this situation.
Torrealba also called for unity, saying that any division within the opposition would ultimately favour the government:
A third thing we cannot do is become divided. What the government wants as this moment, starting from their announcement yesterday, is to produce a situation where some will accept [the announcement], others will not, some will abstain, others will throw rocks and the others will just stare at the ceiling. No. This is not possible.
Torrealba did not spell out what the MUD’s next steps would be, but hinted that bloc realized that it was standing at a historic crossroads. He said:
We need to finalize even the smallest details, because what’s coming next is the design of critical change (…) what’s coming next is struggle and civil courage to make the recall happen.
Torrealba: “Massive Protests” Coming
Zeroing in on the CNE’s announcement that the recall “could” happen next year, Torrealba said that “these conditions contradict the spirit and letter of the Constitution”, and that massive popular demonstrations were forthcoming. He said:
What’s coming is a massive, constitutional, peaceful and overwhelming protest in defense of the people’s rights and of the Constitution. What’s being harmed here is not the political interests of an organization, but rather the Venezuelan’s social contract.
Capriles: MUD Will “Rise to Historic Moment” Venezuela Faces
Miranda state governor and opposition leader Henrique Capriles reacted to the CNE’s announcement last night through his Twitter account. Capriles wrote a number of messages, including one saying that the MUD was fully aware of the historic nature of the CNE’s announcement:
They [government supporters] are 20% and we are 80%. I’m convinced that [the MUD] will rise to the historic moment which we’re living.
Former Rector: CNE Could Hold Referendum in November If It Wanted
Former CNE rector Vicente Diaz called the CNE out over its announcement last night, saying that the only reason why the entity had set such a high bar for the second step of the recall and pushed the actual referendum back to 2017 is because Maduro “is terrified of going to the polls”.
If the CNE wanted to, we could have a recall referendum in a month and a half. We could be collecting the signatures in 15 days, and 30 days after that we could have the referendum.
Diaz also dismissed a popular PSUV critique of the MUD: that the opposition is to blame for the recall happening in 2017 because it waited too long to start the process. Diaz said:
That’s a lie, If the MUD had asked for the process to start on January 11 [the first day of the legislative year] we would be in exactly the same spot we are today.
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