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Venezuela: Referendum Bid Fades, as Opposition Divides

As the scheduled date for a recall on President Chavez's mandate approaches, there are no signs that the vote will take place

Once powerful and combative, opponents of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez have fallen into crisis and unable to force a referendum on his rule. According to the last reports and observers, it will be impossible to comply with the voting date, August 19, as institutional steps have not been taken yet and divisions within the opposition weakened the bid.

 

This week, a crowd of 10,000 people went to streets of Caracas to support the referendum, far from the millions that used to march against Chavez only four months ago. Moreover, Chavez looks stronger than ever and does not even discuss the possibility of a recall on his mandate.

 

Venezuela’s constitution allows a referendum vote on Mr Chavez’s mandate after 19 August, halfway through his current term. However, to do so, it is necessary to complete a number of legal steps that the opposition is not able to achieve.

 

First of all, 20 percent of the electorate must sign a petition calling for the recall, this has not happened. Also, Venezuela’s national assembly needs to appoint a new national electoral council; this too has not happened.  

 

Claiming that his support is solid, Chavez has repeatedly said that he is ready to face the recall. However, it is far from certain that the recall vote would fail if held as opinion polls show that only 40 percent of the population supports his presidency. The problem is that the divided opposition has not yet found a political figure to challenge Chavez.

 

Instead, personal rivalries among its leaders have divided the opposition that was close to toppling Chavez during the strikes of December and January. Moreover, the government has managed to revive the oil industry and stabilize the economy through special anti-market measures adopted to stop export of capital.

 

As he avoids recall referendum, the charismatic Venezuelan leader takes his time to re-organize the country and calls for national unity. "Venezuela has to become an industrial country this year", he urged recently in a statement before national businessmen at Caracas's Presidential Palace. "We need a broader development of our capabilities to look for real national progress", he said.

 

Finally, Chavez heads a campaign to form a Latin American political alliance to deal with international affairs and has earned sympathies from regional leaders such as Brazil's Lula, Argentina's Kirchner and Chile's Lagos. His administration has also expressed Venezuela's will to join Mercosur and create a FTAA block.