Venezuela’s opposition says it has collected enough valid signatures to move forward with its bid to remove President Nicolas Maduro in a referendum.
Thousands of people finished giving their fingerprints to electoral authorities on Friday, wrapping up a key stage in their drive for a recall vote against the embattled president.
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“The total national validation, in spite of all the obstacles, is 409,313 signatures. The annulment will happen in 2016,” Henrique Capriles, the opposition politician, said on Friday.
At least 195,721 signatures, or 1 percent of registered voters, are necessary to move to the next step in the process, according to the National Electoral Council.
The next step would be for election authorities to officially approve the signatures within the next 20 days, and set a deadline for a second petition, which would require about four million signatures to activate the referendum process.
For months now, Maduro has faced increasing hostility, with opponents accusing him of driving oil-rich Venezuela to near economic collapse.
The recent slump in oil prices devastated the OPEC nation’s economic model, leading to an increasing lack of basic goods available, as well as electricity blackouts.
Shortages of foods means that they have to queue outside shops in long lines for several hours.
Waiting in a food queue, Manuel Araque, a farmer in Barlovento, said Maduro was “humiliating” Venezuelans.
“The government, the police and the national guard are the first ones stealing the food,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If this government continues in power, they will ruin us.”
Authorities said at least five people were killed and more than 400 arrested when deadly looting erupted last week.
Maduro, elected in 2013 after the death of President Hugo Chavez, insists that he is the victim of an “economic war” led by businesses with the backing of the United States.
He has alleged irregularities in the signature process and vowed that there will be no referendum this year.
“If there is one, we will go and win it. If there isn’t, political life in this country will go on,” he said.