Power struggle in venezuela: debate over election and oil

The citizens will probably not be able to decide whether to vote President Maduro out of office until 2017. The country is also struggling with the consequences of the drop in oil prices.

A small breather for Maduro – until the 2017 referendum Photo: reuters

In Venezuela, the referendum to vote out President Nicolas Maduro, which is being sought by the opposition, is not expected to take place until next year. The president of the CNE national electoral council, Tibisay Lucena, said Tuesday (local time) that the second collection of signatures initially needed to call the deselection referendum could take place at the end of October. The conservative opposition alliance MUD criticized that this timetable was an unnecessary delay and played into the hands of the ruling Socialists.

Should Maduro be defeated in a referendum before January 10, 2017, new elections would be called. If the referendum were to take place after January 10 and thus within Maduro’s last two years in office, the vice president would take over his office. The opposition wants to avoid this at all costs, which is why it is pushing ahead with its campaign with great haste.

According to Lucena, it still has to be verified whether all the conditions required by law for the collection of signatures have been met, as the newspaper "El Universal" reported in its online edition. The decision on this will be made by the Supreme Electoral Court in mid-September, the CNE president said.

Provided the court gives its approval, the MUD must collect four million signatures from supporters of a referendum within three days. If it succeeds, the referendum could take place within 90 days.

In early August, the opposition had cleared the first hurdle when the CNE confirmed that more than 1 percent of voters in all 24 states had expressed support for the referendum.

Fear of national bankruptcy

For months, the opposition and the government have been engaged in a bitter power struggle. The oil-rich South American country is suffering from a severe economic and financial crisis, partly because of the drop in oil prices. There are fears of national bankruptcy. The economy shrank by seven percent in 2015, and inflation is in the triple digits. A large proportion of Venezuelans are suffering from shortages in the supply of food and hygiene articles.

The government of the ailing petro-state is aiming for a long-term price of 70 U.S. dollars for a barrel (159 liters) of crude oil. That is a price that can easily be achieved on the market, President Nicolas Maduro said on television on Tuesday. He said he was already in contact with the heads of government of other oil-producing countries to initially stabilize the price of oil at around $40 from September. Currently, the oil price is around 35 dollars.

Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves and is suffering particularly badly from the low oil price because of its economy, which is extremely geared to the petroleum industry. Supermarkets are short of food because of the lack of foreign currency, and hospitals are running out of medicine. The world’s highest inflation rate is also eating into citizens’ savings.

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