Venezuela's opposition announces steps to oust President Maduro

  • National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup on Thursday, March 3, 2016.

    National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup on Thursday, March 3, 2016.  (ap)

  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Panama City on April 10, 2015.

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Panama City on April 10, 2015.

Venezuelan opposition parties announced they will use everything in their constitutional power to force President Nicolás Maduro out of office and form a new “government of national unity.”

Maduro was appointed vice president by late President Hugo Chávez, and he continues to lead the country's socialist government – which is perceived by many as autocratic and corrupt.

On Tuesday, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of more than 20 opposition parties, announced a series of steps to remove Maduro from office, which includes nationwide protests calling for his resignation, a constitutional amendment to shorten the presidential term and, as a last resort, a recall referendum.

The first round of protests has been called for this Saturday, March 12.

“We are not just asking for the president’s resignation,” Cipriano Heredia, opposition leader and coordinator of the Popular Center of Citizenship Formation, told Fox News Latino. “We want to put that issue on the table to pressure the government.” 

If Maduro refuses to resign, opposition leaders said they will vote for a constitutional amendment in the National Assembly to reduce the presidential term from six to four years. That would force new elections by the end of the year.

Several amendment drafts have been introduced, but the different opposition factions have yet to agree which one to push forward. A constitutional amendment in Venezuela needs to be approved by the Assembly and then, within 30 days, by a majority of the population through a national referendum.

“If we hurry up, by the end of April or May [the amendment] it can come out of Congress and be ready for elections by June,” Heredia told FNL.

Simultaneously, opposition leaders said, the National Assembly will discuss mechanisms to pave the way for the third option – a recall referendum. Currently, a referendum vote can only be called if 20 percent of the registered voters (around 4 million people) support it with signatures and fingerprints.

“We need a new law to ease the compiling of signatures and abolish those regulations set by the CNE [Venezuela's electoral body],” Heredia said.

However, Maduro and the ruling party are likely to block all these initiatives with Supreme Court rulings and Electoral Council decrees, as they did in 2004, when the opposition tried to oust Chávez.

“This is why we need to activate social pressure in the streets,” Heredia said. “If they don’t feel any pressure, they will block everything.”

If none of these methods work, the opposition intends to undertake the task of rewriting the entire constitution – a process that requires the votes of two-thirds of the National Assembly.

Even though the opposition won a super-majority of the votes in the December parliamentary election which would make such maneuvers more possible, it hasn’t materialized because of the three legislators were challenged by Maduro's ruling party and are still barred from taking their seats in the Assembly.

Some analysts don’t see an easily achievable path to ousting Maduro.

Colette Capriles, a political analyst and professor at Simon Bolívar University, said the lack of political leadership within the opposition is making things increasingly harder.

“They have announced that all these methods are going to be activated, but they haven’t said how they will do it or which are the exact steps going forward,” Capriles told FNL.

She also pointed at internal divisions that are preventing the numerous parties in MUD from agreeing on certain issues.

“As long as things stay this way the threat against Maduro´s government is less credible,” she said.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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