Venezuela's electoral body suspends recall campaign against Maduro
CARACAS, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) -- Venezuela's electoral council on Thursday suspended a new round of signature-collecting planned next week for a referendum on whether to remove President Nicolas Maduro from power.
"In adherence to the Constitution, the National Electoral Council (CNE) abides by the decisions ordered by the tribunals and has sent instructions to postpone the process of signature gathering until new judicial instructions are known," the CNE said in a statement.
The electoral body gave no indication whether and when the process would be resumed.
According to the original schedule, from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28, the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) will seek to collect signatures from 20 percent of the electorate (nearly 4 million people) in order to trigger a referendum.
Once the signatures are collected, the MUD will have five days to deliver them to the electoral council for its inspection. The electoral body will then have 15 working days, between Nov. 3-23, to count and verify all the signatures.
If the number of valid signatures is above the 20 percent threshold, a referendum must happen within 90 days of being announced.
The CNE's decision was made in response to rulings earlier Thursday by courts in four Venezuelan states that there was fraud in an earlier stage of the petition drive.
The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has been accusing the MUD of committing an "electoral fraud" in the first stage of the referendum process in June.
The CNE detected after an extensive validation process at least 605,000 signatures from the lists handed over by the opposition coalition supporting the referendum as irregular. Around 10,995 people who already deceased were included in the lists and therefore could not be classed as valid signatories.
Meanwhile, the suspension of the recall campaign aroused anger from the MUD, who says Maduro and his allies control the courts and electoral authorities and are using them to cling to power.
"The government is pushing a very dangerous scenario in which the crisis worsens," opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter.
The MUD is eager to hold the recall vote as soon as possible. If Maduro is voted out before Jan. 10, 2017, then new elections can be held to choose a successor, and the opposition is banking on a win after years of economic turmoil.[ Editor: meng ]