Venezuela’s opposition says it has delivered a petition to election authorities calling for a nationwide referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office.
The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable said Monday it has collected 1.85 million signatures, more than nine times the number needed to launch the referendum process.
The party blames Maduro’s policies for food and medicine shortages, soaring inflation and increasingly frequent power cuts.
The National Electoral Board must now validate the signatures. Then the opposition can try to collect the signatures of 20 percent of the electorate – around 4 million people – before a referendum can be held.
A recent poll found that two-thirds of Venezuelans want Maduro to leave office.
The opposition is seeking to hold a recall referendum by the end of the year which, if successful, would trigger a new election. They accuse the Maduro administration of trying to stall any potential vote until 2017, when a successful recall vote would transfer power to the vice president.
On Sunday, Venezuela pushed its clocks forward a half-hour in an attempt to deal with the country’s chronic shortage of electricity.
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s science and technology minister, said the change will reduce the nighttime use of lighting and air conditioning.
The government has initiated a packet of changes designed to save electricity, including rolling blackouts, a two-day public sector work week, and schools closed on Fridays.
Maduro, who was elected in 2013 in a close vote, blames the power shortage on this year’s massive drought, which reduced the reservoirs at Venezuela’s hydroelectric dams. The opposition says the administration’s mismanagement is to blame for the power cuts as well as the country’s economic downturn.
The oil-rich country once was awash in money, but oil prices have fallen and so have the fortunes of Venezuela.