Thursday, March 03, 2016

Venezuela Opposition Sets Strategy to Oust President Maduro
Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela— A lawmaker says Venezuela's opposition coalition has decided on a triple-barreled strategy to oust President Nicolas Maduro before the end of his term.

The opposition will simultaneously pursue a constitutional amendment to shorten presidential terms, a recall referendum and a campaign to pressure the embattled socialist president to resign, said opposition lawmaker Americo De Grazia.

The coalition of more than a dozen mostly centrist political parties reached the agreement on strategy after a long day of meetings Wednesday.

"We can't commit suicide by having just one card in our hand. Common political sense tells us we need to pursue several strategies," he said.

Maduro's six-year term ends in 2019. The opposition won a landslide victory in legislative elections in December, and promised to find a way to remove Maduro from power within the first half of 2016.

The opposition has for years been riven by internal division and several factions have been advocating different strategies for getting rid of Maduro. All have potential downsides.

One plan is to seek a constitutional amendment cutting presidential terms from six to four years, effectively ending Maduro's term

But many fear that would be overturned by the Supreme Court, which has never ruled against the executive branch since Maduro's mentor, Hugo Chavez, won the presidency in 1999.

Last month, the court overturned the one decision Congress has made since being sworn in — a vote to deny Maduro emergency powers to deal with the economy.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court banned Congress from investigating the government's rushed appointment of 13 high court justices last year, which critics saw as an attempt to pack the court with government supporters.

A recall referendum is no sure thing either, though Maduro's approval ratings have languished in the 20 percent range for most of his term. The opposition would need to gather nearly 4 million signatures to trigger the recall process. If a vote was called, winning a simple majority would not be enough. The opposition would need to surpass the number of votes Maduro won in 2013.

Maduro already has repeatedly dismissed calls for his resignation, accusing critics of purposely sowing economic chaos to destabilize his administration.

Venezuela is grappling with chronic shortages, a deep recession, and widespread fears the country will default on its debt. The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation, already the world's highest, will more than double in 2016, reaching 720 percent.

Last year, the White House declared a national emergency with respect to Venezuela and imposed sanctions on high-ranking officials accused of human rights abuses. On Thursday, President Barack Obama renewed the about-to-expire decree, citing continued persecution of opposition politicians, curtailment of free press and government corruption.

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