Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Will Maduro Succeed in Dissolving Congress?

from Yahoo News
Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's government is considering asking the high court to dissolve the legislature controlled by President Nicolas Maduro's opponents who are seeking to remove him from office, a spokesman said Tuesday.

It was the latest maneuver in a political conflict that has raised tensions in the volatile South American country as it struggles with an economic crisis.

Maduro's side "has started discussions to request a consultation with the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court" with a view to achieving "the abolition of this National Assembly," ruling coalition spokesman Didalco Bolivar told a news conference.

The opposition blames Maduro for a deep economic crisis that has caused widespread food shortages and deadly looting.

It has launched efforts to remove him since taking control of the assembly in January. Maduro has challenged them through the Supreme Court, which his rivals say he controls.

Bolivar said the government in its latest action would charge the opposition lawmakers with abuse of power, treason and breach of the constitution.

The political standoff between the president and the assembly has heightened tensions in the oil-producing nation.

- Coup, fraud -

Maduro's opponents in the centrist MUD coalition are pushing for a referendum this year on whether to cut short his term.

The government on Monday launched a counter-maneuver, announcing fresh legal challenges against a petition filed by the opposition calling for a referendum.

The opposition is rushing to complete the recall process by January 10, the cutoff date to trigger new elections.

After that date, a successful recall vote would simply pass power to Maduro's hand-picked vice president.

The national electoral board has said it will announce by July 26 whether enough signatures on the petition have been authenticated for the referendum drive to proceed.

If that happens, Maduro's opponents will have to collect four million more signatures to call a full referendum.

"We now call for this process to advance unobstructed, with respect for the constitutional principle of swiftness," MUD general secretary Jesus Torrealba told a news conference on Tuesday.

Maduro on Sunday called the collection of opposition signatures a "giant electoral fraud."

The opposition leader of congress, Henry Ramos, said that if Maduro blocked the referendum, that would amount to a "coup d'etat."

Bolivar said the government in its new legal action would also demand "that legislative elections be called so that the people can say whether they want this obstructionist and constitution-violating assembly to be in charge, or the contrary."

He said the governing coalition would make an announcement on its planned lawsuit next week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Step 1 Towards Removal - Complete

from Yahoo
Venezuela's opposition cleared its first hurdle Tuesday in its uphill race to call a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro, whom it blames for driving the country to the brink of collapse.

But the leftist leader flexed his muscle when riot police fired tear gas to block opposition protesters from marching on the electoral authority's headquarters, underlining the tension tearing at the country as it staggers through a painful crisis.

Maduro dismissed the effort to oust him, branding it "invalid."

After weeks of pressuring the National Electoral Board (CNE) to allow the referendum process to go ahead, the opposition announced the board had accepted as valid 1.3 million signatures on a petition calling for a recall vote.

The decision moves the lengthy recall process on to the next step, in which at least 200,000 signatories must confirm their identity with fingerprint scans.

Under the constitution, the opposition would then have to gather four million more signatures -- 20 percent of the electorate -- to trigger a recall vote.

Maduro's opponents are racing to call a referendum before January 10 -- four years into his six-year term -- when a successful recall vote would trigger new elections rather than transfer power to the vice president.

The opposition warns the once-booming oil giant risks exploding into unrest if authorities do not allow a referendum on Maduro's rule, which has seen an economic downturn marked by severe shortages of food, electricity, medicine and other basic goods.

Seeking to pressure the electoral authorities, whom it accuses of dragging their feet, the opposition tried to march on the CNE's headquarters, but heavily armored riot police broke up the protest.

It is the third time in recent days police have forcefully stopped attempts to march on the CNE.

Protesters had angry words for the police, shouting "Traitors!" and "You're hungry too!"

About 1,000 demonstrators took part in the march, lining up behind a giant Venezuelan flag and chanting "This government will fall!" before police scattered them.

"We're here in the street to get Maduro out. We want change in this country. We're hungry," said protester Richard Salas, an administrative worker who carried a sign with a long list of products that have disappeared from supermarket shelves.

- 'No referendum this year' -

Maduro and his allies accuse the opposition of rampant fraud in its signature drive.

"More than 30 percent of the signatures delivered were illegal" so the recall effort is "invalid," the president said on his weekly program broadcast on state television.

A possible vote to remove him from office "has not been nor will be brought to any negotiating table," Maduro said.

Vice president Aristobulo Isturiz said bluntly on Monday: "There won't be a referendum this year."

Opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba said the electoral authority would announce the procedures for the next stage in the recall process on Wednesday.

The initial petition, submitted on May 2, had some 1.8 million signatures.

Torrealba said a "badly done" verification process had disqualified 600,000 of them.

But "we have six times the (200,000) signatures we need to activate the recall referendum process," he said.

Home to the world's largest oil reserves, Venezuela has gone into an economic tailspin as global crude prices have plunged over the past two years.

The opposition, which Maduro brands elitist, has struggled to apply pressure by rallying mass demonstrations.

But spontaneous protests, riots and looting have broken out in neighborhoods once considered bastions for Maduro and late president Hugo Chavez, who launched Venezuela on the path of socialist "revolution" in 1999.

A woman died Monday after being hit by a stray bullet when police opened fire on looters trying to ransack a warehouse in the western city of San Cristobal, her family said.

Maduro accuses the business elite of artificially creating shortages to destabilize his government.

International mediators led by Spain's former prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero are trying to bring the government and opposition together for talks, but both sides have shown reluctance.

"We're not going to sign up for hypocritical negotiations. If people don't believe in Maduro, they're not going to believe in talks," said protest leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 presidential race to Maduro.