Venezuela’s National Election Council (CNE) says the opposition has collected enough signatures to pave the way for a referendum against President Nicolas Maduro.
It allows the opposition to begin collecting further signatures in support of ousting Maduro from power.
The first step in a 12-step process towards a referendum required support from one percent of the electorate.
To advance the process, signatures need to be collected from 20 percent of the electorate – that is about four million signatures.
The timing of a referendum is significant. If Maduro loses a vote this year, a new presidential election would be triggered. But if he loses one next year, he would automatically be replaced by his vice-president.
Government allegations of fraud
The government has tried to bury the push for a vote, alleging massive fraud in the collection of signatures.
“The recall referendum is legally dead because nothing can be built upon this base that is profoundly fraudulent,” said government representative Jorge Rodriguez.
But the president of the CNE said that 98 percent of nearly 408,000 signatures gathered by the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition — twice the minimum requirement of one percent, or 200,000 — in the initial phase were validated.
She has requested a probe into the others.
Thousands of opposition protesters blame Maduro for a long recession, triple-digit inflation, and shortages of basic items in the shops.
Maduro says the fault lies with falling oil prices and an “economic” war by opponents.