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  • The Electoral Council will suspend, until further notice, the first stages of the recall referendum.

    The Electoral Council will suspend, until further notice, the first stages of the recall referendum. | Photo: Reuters

The right-wing opposition has been gunning for a recall referendum to ask voters whether they want to remove President Maduro from office.

The first and second stage of the recall referendum in Venezuela, in which the right-wing opposition needs to collect signatures from 1 percent of the country's electorate and 20 percent from each state, was canceled Thursday over fraud allegations surrounding the right-wing opposition.

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The states of Aragua, Bolivar, Carabobo and Monagas annulled the first step in the process after allegations of fraud committed by the right-wing Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD.

Last June, Ricardo Molina, a lawmaker in the National Assembly, alleged the opposition had frauded some 20,000 signatures in Aragua state alone.

Thursday's announcement freezes the recall referendum process against President Nicolas Maduro since the states will now likely have to repeat the process.

"The uncollected percentage in any region of the country would invalidate the presidential recall referendum," the Supreme Court announced in an official statement.

According to the National Electoral Council of Venezuela, the CNE, the second phase which requires the collection of 20 percent of the population's signatures from each of Venezuela's 23 states, is also canceled.

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The CNE said the decision comes after the MUD committed a criminal offense of presenting false data, and the collection—scheduled for Oct. 26, 27 and 28—will be canceled until a new judicial order.

The MUD presented almost 2 million signatures, from which more than 600,000, about 30 percent, were deemed irregular. From those, 11,000 belonged to the deceased, about 9,000 I.D. numbers did not exist, more than 3,000 belonged to minors, and about 1,000 belonged to prisoners. The rest of the signatures did not comply with the specific criteria and had important data missing.

The state of Carabobo issued a ruling on Friday that prevents key opposition leaders from leaving the country, and began a judicial investigation against them for fraud.

The prohibition to leave the country was dictated against the governor of Miranda Henrique Capriles, the executive secretary of the Bureau of the MUD Jesus Torrealba and other opposition leaders.

Venezuela's right-wing coalition has argued that the 20 percent threshold only needs to be met nationally, which would total about 4 million signatures.

While opposition leaders have accused the electoral board of purposely stalling the process, Venezuelan officials blame the opposition for the timing, saying the coalition took three months to reach a consensus on the referendum and that fraud—including some 11,000 signatures from deceased Venezuelans—was committed in the preliminary drive for signatures.

The MUD has been gunning for a recall referendum to ask voters whether they want to remove President Maduro from office.Electoral authorities have set a timeline for a possible referendum to happen next year, which would mean that if Venezuelans vote to end Maduro’s mandate his vice president would take over for the rest of the term instead of forcing snap elections.

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