The timetable for a recall referendum on whether President Nicolas Maduro should stay in power means it is unlikely there will be an early presidential election, and it will probably keep the opposition from power.
The schedule for the petition to collect the signatures needed to force a recall is crucial for the opposition in Venezuela. If President Nicolas Maduro loses a referendum held after January 10, he would just transfer power to his chosen deputy, who would serve until his term ends in early 2019. Before that date, there would be a presidential election.
National Elections Council President Tibisay Lucena said on Tuesday that opponents of Maduro's socialist administration will probably be authorized in late October to try to collect petition signatures from the 20 percent of the country's voters, or 4 million people, needed to force a recall.
Lucena said the gathering of signatures "would take place around the end of October" on condition that "all the regulatory requirements are fulfilled."
Election officials would then take 90 days to confirm the signatures and schedule a referendum on whether Maduro should remain in power.
On that timetable, a vote to recall Maduro would probably not happen until January or February.
Maduro has consistently said the recall will not happen this year and election officials have been accused of taking a very long time to get the referendum process underway.
Opposition leaders have said there is plenty of time for the recall vote to happen this year and potential candidate for the presidency Henrique Capriles has called for a major protest on September 1.
"The elections officials know that closing the tiny window of democratic change that we still have puts the country in a very dangerous place," Capriles said at a news conference. "They know that they have to obey the constitution."
Protests against the government have increased due to an economic crisis that has led to food shortages, riots and looting.
Venezuela has vast oil reserves; by various estimates anywhere between 60 billion and 297 billion barrels, depending on how much of the oil can be technically or economically recovered. The higher figure would mean the South American country has the world's largest proven oil reserves - more than Saudi Arabia's 265 billion barrels.
But lack of investment and technical expertise have limited the development of the oil industry in Venezuela. A drop in world oil prices, together with currency weaknesses and a lack of locally produced goods and services has brought the economy close to collapse.
By IMF figures, at minus 8 percent Venezuela has the world's worst negative growth rate, along with the worst inflation rate at 48 percent. The unemployment rate is 17 percent but is expected to climb to near 30 percent in the coming few years.
According to Transparency International, Venezuela is the ninth most corrupt country in the world.
jm/kl (AP, Reuters)