Venezuela: Opposition Announces Push to Oust Maduro

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CARACAS, Venezuela – Weeks after several prominent opposition politicians stepped up their calls for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro through political channels, the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has announced that it would be utilizing several mechanisms soon in an attempt to remove Maduro from power three years before his mandate expires.

With their newfound majority in the unilateral National Assembly, the MUD has rallied around La Salida (The Exit), a radical dissident faction of the MUD that has refused to be a part of any dialogue between the government and the opposition. La Salida has also repeatedly called for the outright ousting of Maduro through mass mobilizations before the opposition gained parliamentary control.

What was once a radical faction, however, has now become the norm with the opposition as Maduro, through the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, has passed certain laws and overruled bills created by the MUD in the National Assembly.

Seeing no way around this clash of government branches, the MUD has now as a unit rallied around the goal of removing Maduro from the presidential Miraflores Palace in contrast to just even a few months ago when the mainstream MUD was simply (but voraciously) calling for a change in the ruling government’s policies.

This is no longer the case, however, as even Henrique Capriles Radonski, Governor of Miranda State and the MUD’s candidate in the last two presidential elections, is calling for Maduro’s removal. The development is significant not only because Capriles Radonski is the MUD’s most prominent politician, but also because he has been repeatedly criticized by members of the opposition in the past for being “too soft” with the Executive.

“We cannot continue like this any longer. The time has come for Venezuelans to make a decision through constitutional means and this action is imminent,” Capriles Radonski wrote in a message posted on his Twitter account last month. He reiterated that message this week when he said that “the time for the recall referendum is now because it is not a question of opposition or revolution but one of salvation.”

On the week that Venezuela marks the third anniversary of the death of former iconic leader Hugo Chávez, Capriles Radonski estimates that the opposition would have the recall referendum completely ready for a nationwide vote at the beginning of October of this year.

The recall referendum, whose outcome would depend on the popular vote, allows for the removal of a sitting leader halfway through their mandate, which has already occurred in the case of Maduro.

To do this, the organizers of the recall effort must gather 20 percent of the registered electorate, equating to some 3.9 million voters, within an official span of three days. If this is achieved, the National Electoral Council (CNE) will count and review the signatures and once the CNE approves, the referendum vote must be called within 90 days.

For Maduro’s mandate to be revoked, the votes in favor of a recall must surpass the number of votes he gathered in the 2013 election, which means that over 7.5 Venezuelans must vote against Maduro in order for the recall effort to succeed.

Another option mentioned by the MUD to remove Maduro is via constitutional amendment. This option, already proposed by members of the Radical Cause (a center-left party in the MUD), would amend several articles of the Venezuelan Constitution: to shorten the presidential term from six years to four, to shorten the terms of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice judges from twelve years to six and to limit both of those positions to only one re-election.

Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, was elected for yet another term in the presidential election of late 2012. Following Chávez’s death in March of 2013, Maduro served as the interim leader until a new election was held a year later where he narrowly defeated Capriles Radonski. This ensured that Maduro would finish the term for which Chávez was elected, which is scheduled to end in early February of 2019.

If the opposition’s amendment proposal (which would require a simple parliamentary majority) passes, however, then the term would end in 2017 instead of 2019, meaning that the electoral season would begin in only a few months. The opposition, confident that the incumbent would stand no chance, have said they have no objections to Maduro running on behalf of the Great Patriotic Pole, a coalition led by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

This process, according to the opposition, is the most “painless” way of achieving regime change, and it would allow Maduro to “save face” because technically, he would simply be finishing his mandate instead of being removed from office.

Finally, two other options for an early termination of the mandate remain including the creation of a powerful Constituent Assembly and the practically impossible resignation by Maduro, something that he qualified as having “absolutely no remote possibility of any sort” of happening.

All of these options are a part of “Roadmap 2016,” the resolution announced on Tuesday by the MUD which would utilize “all the legal and democratic mechanisms that allow for a recall” provided by the Venezuelan Constitution.

Jesús Torrealba, the Secretary General of the MUD, announced the plan before the press in Caracas and said that the opposition has finally settled on removing Maduro because “this situation cannot continue” and because “nothing is functioning” in the country.

“The MUD has taken the decision unanimously to call on all Venezuelans to join and shape this democratic movement to place popular pressure on the government by activating all of the existing mechanisms that are found in our Constitution for a change in leadership,” the “Roadmap 2016” release read, and also called for the subsequent formation of a “Government of National Unity.”

“Something must be done because what we have in this country right now is not a functioning democracy but rather an arbitrary autocracy,” Torrealba said.

The first part of this plan, which will be followed by the aforementioned mechanisms, consists of mass mobilizations across the country starting this Saturday to force Maduro into making the unlikely decision of stepping down. The point of these mobilizations, according to Torrealba, is to “to show the government how out of touch it is” and to “offer Maduro a chance to step aside” and not face the other mechanisms that could remove him from office.

Maduro, for his part, has remained defiant as always. “No one can remove me from here and I will not allow it, just as any person would not allow someone to remove them from their home,” he said from the Miraflores Palace.

In the December 2015 election, the Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) lost their majority in the National Assembly for the first time since 1999 (back when their coalition was known as the Fifth Republic Movement). Led by Chávez, the “Bolivarian Revolution” was immensely popular in Venezuela for well over a decade but a series of developments over the last several years severely damaged its popularity and reputation.

Fed up with issues like high inflation, shortages, high crime rates, insecurity and what they deem to be political repression, the populace of Venezuela has been increasingly turning away from the party, especially since the death of Chávez in March of 2013 and the subsequent worsening economic situation in the country, brought about mostly by the sharp fall of oil prices and other commodities.

For those same reasons, various anti-government groups and opposition leaders took to the streets on February 12, 2014, and the violent march that ensued ended in three dead and hundreds injured. The demonstrations, organized and led by opposition figure Leopoldo López, who remains jailed, intensified for several weeks thereafter and left 43 Venezuelans dead (mostly security figures) before calm returned to the nation.

Since then, the economic issues in Venezuela have only worsened and given the violence and death that occurred in 2014, any major protest that now occurs in Venezuela carries with it a heavy tension and the threat of blowing over into similar unrest.

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