| CARACAS, Sept 22
CARACAS, Sept 22 Foes of President Nicolas
Maduro vowed to protest and accused Venezuela's election
authority on Thursday of ignoring popular will by quashing their
push for a referendum this year on recalling the unpopular
The election board gave a timetable on Wednesday for a
potential plebiscite to happen in early 2017, meaning that
should Maduro lose, the vice-president would take over under
constitutional rules on succession.
Blaming Maduro for the OPEC nation's deep economic crisis,
the opposition had campaigned for a plebiscite to be held this
year because that would have triggered a new presidential
election had Maduro lost, as polls indicate he would.
That would have given the opposition a shot at ending 17
years of socialist rule in Venezuela.
But by pushing it back to next year - if indeed it happens
at all, given tough rules applied to the next phase - the
election board's action essentially ensured the Socialist Party
would retain power until the next presidential election, set for
"They are violating the constitution ... showing total lack
of respect for citizens," said Jesus Torrealba, head of the
Democratic Unity coalition, promising massive street
Opposition leaders were meeting on Thursday to prepare their
response. Hardliners might now push for an abandonment of the
referendum in favor of civil disobedience tactics.
"The moderate faction is more likely to prevail, but keeping
hopes alive that a referendum can lead to genuine change will be
an uphill struggle, and opposition divisions risk coming to the
surface, exactly as the government intended," said Nicholas
Watson, an analyst with Teneo Intelligence.
As a result of the oil price plunge and a failing state-led
economic model, Venezuela is suffering a third year of
recession, with shortages of basics from bread to painkillers,
vast shopping lines and triple-digit inflation.
Maduro, 53, had been under intense international pressure to
allow a referendum, from the United States to major Latin
The government has blamed the opposition for the delay
because Maduro's foes took three months this year for the
coalition's 30 diverse groupings to activate the push for the
As well as pushing a potential plebiscite into 2017, the
election board rejected the opposition's insistence that the
next phase - collection of signatures of 20 percent of the
country's registered voters requesting the referendum - should
be at a national level, with 19,500 voting machines available.
Instead, the board said the 20 percent threshold must be met
in each of Venezuela's 23 states, during an Oct. 26-28 drive,
and only 5,400 machines would be available.
(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Will Dunham)