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Venezuelan opposition split on how to respond to latest blow against recall

A protest against President Nicolas Maduro, in Merida, Venezuela, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.

A protest against President Nicolas Maduro, in Merida, Venezuela, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.  (ap)

A day after Venezuela’s Electoral Board practically blocked any chance of a presidential recall before the end of the year, opposition lawmakers were struggling to come to a consensus on what step to take next.

Early Thursday, the coalition that unites them, the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), convened an emergency “permanent session” until a decision was made, but as hours went by the 20-plus parties involved seemed split in a hopeless deadlock.

One side believes a referendum is the only viable way to stand up to the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro, which holds total control over the military and the judicial branch of power. Other segments think a vote to recall the president no longer makes sense because a 2017 referendum – and an eventual win – would allow the vice president to finish Maduro’s term and remain at the helm of country until 2019.

“Complex times are coming and citizens are not yet aware of the Pandora box that has just been opened,” political analyst Oswaldo Ramirez told Fox News Latino.

While opposition leaders deliberated privately behind closed doors, some went on Twitter to voice their frustration and determination to fight – but strategies differed.

Primero Justicia, one of the main parties in the coalition, made clear on Twitter that the way to move forward includes a referendum – even when the conditions set by the government will require a massive mobilization: in order for a recall vote to proceed, solicitants must gather signatures from 20 percent of voters in each of Venezuela's 23 states. That comes up to about 4 million signatures.

Electoral expert and MUD consultant Anibal Sanchez said the task is enormous, but doable.

“We estimate that it will take about a minute per signature to be registered. We could get the almost four million that are needed in three days, but it will require a great organizational effort,” said Anibal Sanchez, an electoral expert and consultant to MUD.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who has led the recall campaign, responded to Wednesday's announcement by pointing to opinion polls that suggest 80 percent of Venezuelans would vote against Maduro.

"They are the 20%! We are the great majority, the 80%! We are millions and we are going to make them feel it!" he wrote on Twitter.

Other leaders, such as Maria Corina Machado from Vente Venezuela, said this is the time for a “civil disobedience” to force a recall this year.

The differences within MUD may be weakening the opposition’s momentum and providing fertile ground for a new political force.

“We are already seeing different leaders selling third-party options,” said Ramirez, the political analyst. “If MUD loses the trust of the people, they could capitalize that next year.”

Meanwhile, the MUD is doing a big effort to preserve a united front, at least publicly, and that would explain why they took almost 24 hours to agree on the their next move.

A middle ground that has been proposed is agreeing to the new government requirements, but still call for street demonstrations demanding better conditions for the signature gathering procedure.

The opposition has asked the government to provide 20,000 voting machines that are used to register and verify signatures, but officials will provide only 5,400.

The campaign also wanted to use the machines all day. Instead, the government will open polling stations for just seven hours daily.

If the referendum path were to be taken, analysts think that leaders of smaller factions, who tend to be more radical, would distance themselves from MUD even further.

“The three main leaders, Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez and Henry Ramos Allup will keep together at least publicly,” said Ramirez, “But some opposition followers could identify with positions like the one from Machado.”

The AP contributed to this report.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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