CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Electoral authorities on Monday certified that opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had gathered enough signatures to permit them to conduct a second petition drive aimed at removing the socialist leader from office.
Officials said the opposition coalition successfully collected signatures from at least 1 percent of voters in each state — a requirement for pursuing a petition drive calling for a recall election.
The opposition now faces a much tougher challenge: It will need to gather signatures from 20 percent of Venezuela's registered voters, or 4 million people, to force a recall election. And it will have just three days to get the signature drive done.
With Venezuela's economic troubles worsening, with triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of good and other goods, opinion polls say a large majority of voters want Maduro gone.
If Maduro's opponents should succeed in defeating him in a recall vote this year, Venezuela would hold an election for a new president. If it happened in 2017, Maduro would be replaced by his vice president.
Leaders of the ruling socialist party have said they will not allow the vote to happen before next year.
Also on Monday, the country's Supreme Court declared the opposition-controlled National Assembly in contempt until three contested legislative seats are vacated. The congress swore in the three lawmakers last week in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.
Electoral authorities had certified the victory of the three lawmakers in December elections. But they were later denied their seats after allies of government alleged electoral irregularities.
The Supreme Court has consistently struck down congressional legislation this year.