Venezuela’s Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz has ruled out the possibility of a recall referendum being held against President Nicolas Maduro.
“Maduro won’t be ousted by a referendum because there will be no referendum,” Mr Isturiz said.
Two weeks ago, opposition politicians began the process by handing in a petition signed by 1.85 million people.
But Mr Isturiz said the opposition had “acted too late, had done it wrong and had committed fraud”.
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.
Many Venezuelans blame Mr Maduro for the economic crisis the country is experiencing.
Its 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.
Steps towards a recall referendum
- 1% of voters on the electoral roll have to sign a petition within 30 days to kick-start the process
- 20% of voters (almost four million) have to sign a second petition in order to trigger the referendum on Mr Maduro
- For the referendum to be successful, an equal or greater number of voters than those who elected Mr Maduro would have to cast their vote in favour of the recall. Mr Maduro won the 2013 election with 7,587,579 votes
On Friday, President 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.
Mr Maduro did not specify what powers the state of emergency would give him except to say it would offer Venezuelans “fuller, more comprehensive protection”.
Timing is key
On 2 May, 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 Wednesday 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 Maduro were to be removed by a recall referendum in his last two years in office, he would be replaced by his Vice-President, Mr Isturiz.
But if Mr 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 Mr Isturiz take over power, as he is seen as a loyal member of Mr Maduro’s Socialist Unity Party.
For new elections to be held, the recall referendum would have to go against Mr Maduro before 10 January 2017.