In Brief

Boost for campaign to oust Venezuela's Maduro

Poll suggests 64 per cent of country would vote to remove embattled leader

Opponents of Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro have completed the first phase of their campaign to remove him.

The country's election board announced yesterday that the opposition had collected double the 200,000 petition signatures required to force a recall referendum that could lead to Maduro leaving office.

The timing of any future referendum is crucial. If it goes ahead by the end of this year, a vote against Maduro would trigger a new presidential election. "We still don't know if we will be seeing a referendum. It is not guaranteed yet," said Al Jazeera's Daniel Lak.

The opposition coalition alleges that the National Electoral Council (CNE) is staffed with government supporters and for that reason, the decision to advance the referendum process had been far from guaranteed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the CNE "took three months to count and validate the signatures in the latest petition, compared with the days it has taken in the past to sign off on signature drives initiated by the government".

The process of securing a referendum is an arduous one and the Washington Post cautions that Maduro's opponents now face a much tougher challenge: gathering signatures from 20 per cent of Venezuela's registered voters - four million people - to force a recall election.

"It will have just three days to get the signature drive done," adds the paper.

The Financial Times says Venezuela's armed forces have emerged as a key player. "In a region once known for military coups, observers say any transition away from Mr Maduro would require the approval of the armed forces," writes Andres Schipani.

The army already controls food production and distribution in the country and several government ministries now report direction to the defence minister as well as the President.

A recent poll found 64 per cent of Venezuelans would vote to remove Maduro, who has presided over the worst economic crisis in living memory, severe food shortages, a three-year recession, hyperinflation, violence and looting. He blames the situation on falling oil prices and an economic war by opponents.

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