Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro won’t be ousted by a referendum because there will be no referendum, Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz has said.
Two weeks ago, opposition politicians began the process by handing in a petition signed by 1.85 million people.
However, Aistobulo Isturiz said the opposition had “acted too late, had done it wrong and had committed fraud”.
Members of the opposition have previously warned the referendum may be hard to push through, as they alleged that the National Electoral Council (CNE) is staffed by government loyalists.
Nicolas Maduro has announced that three air force generals have been arrested for plotting an uprising against his government
Many Venezuelans blame President Nicolas Maduro for the economic crisis the country is experiencing.
Venezuela’s economy contracted by 5.7% last year and is expected to shrink further this year. Inflation is at 180%, according to official figures, and there are shortages of medicines and basic food items.
On May 13, Nicolas Maduro declared a state of emergency to “denounce, neutralize and overcome the external and foreign aggressions against our country”, which he blames for Venezuela’s economic problems.
Nicolas Maduro did not specify what powers the state of emergency would give him except to say it would offer Venezuelans “fuller, more comprehensive protection”.
On May 2, opposition politicians handed in 80 boxes containing 1.85 million signatures to the CNE, well above the 1% of voters on the electoral roll needed to kick-start the process.
Opposition politicians say the authorities are trying to stall the process and have called on their supporters to march to the offices of the CNE on May 18 to demand they verify the signatures so the process can go ahead.
The timing of a potential recall referendum is key because the outcome could be radically different depending on when it is held.
Under Venezuela’s constitution, if President Nicolas Maduro were to be removed by a recall referendum in his last two years in office, he would be replaced by his Vice-President, Aristobulo Isturiz.
However, if Nicolas Maduro were to be recalled before that, new elections would be triggered.
The opposition sees it as essential to have new elections rather than have Aristobulo Isturiz take over power, as he is seen as a loyal member of Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Unity Party.
For new elections to be held, the recall referendum would have to go against Nicolas Maduro before January 10, 2017.
Venezuela has announced it is imposing a two-day working week for public sector workers as a temporary measure to help it overcome a serious energy crisis.
According to Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz, civil servants should turn up for work only on Mondays and Tuesdays until the crisis was over.
The South American country is facing a major drought, which has dramatically reduced water levels at its main hydroelectric dam.
However, the opposition has accused the government of mismanaging the crisis.
The measures announced on national television by Aristobulo Isturiz affect two million public sector workers.
In the TV address, the vice-president said: “There will be no work in the public sector on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, except for fundamental and necessary tasks.”
President Nicolas Maduro had already given most of Venezuela’s 2.8 million state employees Fridays off during April and May, to cut down on electricity consumption.
He said Venezuela had been badly hit by the El Nino weather phenomenon and would return to normal when it started raining again.
“We are requesting international help, technical and financial aid to help revert the situation,” he said.
“We are managing the situation in the best possible way while we wait for the rains to return.”
“Several countries in the region have been affected by the drought, caused by El Nino. But Venezuela has the highest domestic consumption of energy.”
Venezuela’s government has already adopted a number of other measures to try to deal with the crisis. In February, shopping centers were told to reduce their opening hours and generate their own energy.
Earlier this week, the government put the clocks forward by half an hour to reduce demand for electricity in the early evening.
Last week, it announced it was introducing power cuts for four hours a day.
The power shortages have deepened Venezuela’s serious economic crisis.
Many businessmen and opposition politicians blame the energy crisis and shortages of basic goods on government economic mismanagement.
They say tough currency controls introduced in 2003 by the late president, Hugo Chavez, have only made this worse.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s economy has also been hit by a sharp fall in the price of its main export, oil.
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