Venezuela opposition-backed Congress approves new referendum rules

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-dominated parliament on Wednesday approved a law to speed up the process of requesting recall referendums, as adversaries of President Nicolas Maduro seek to push him from office amid a deepening economic crisis.

The country’s constitution allows elected officials to be recalled via referendum once they have served half of their term in office. Maduro was elected in 2013 to six years in office.

The law is a challenge to the country’s elections council, which earlier this month said it, rather than the assembly, should be in charge of regulating referendums.

The measure also risks being struck down by the supreme court, which has repeatedly sided with Maduro in disputes between the executive branch and the Congress since the opposition won a two-thirds legislative majority last year.

“Do not be afraid of holding a plebiscite,” said opposition deputy Luis Stefanelli during parliamentary debate.

A February poll by local firm Datanalisis showed that two-thirds of Venezuelans believe Maduro’s presidency should end this year. Low oil prices and a collapsing socialist economic model have left Venezuelans struggling with triple-digit inflation, a severe recession and chronic product shortages.

Ruling Socialist Party deputies said Congress had staged a “parliamentary coup” by encroaching on the powers of the electoral authority in violation of the constitution.

The assembly also began discussing a constitutional amendment that would cut the presidential term to four years from six, part of efforts to hasten Maduro’s removal.

His supporters insist Congress cannot retroactively change his term in office, and that such a measure could apply only to future presidencies.

Reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Matthew Lewis