CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Venezuela's National Electoral Council, or CNE, on Wednesday released a recall referendum process timetable that could keep Nicolas Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela in power until 2018.
In the CNE ruling, the opposition will need to collect 3,893,128 signatures -- exactly 20 percent -- from Venezuela's voting-eligible population between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28 in a petition drive. The CNE would then review the signatures provided by the MUD to see if they meet requirements and in late November rule whether the opposition's efforts were a success.
Afterward, the CNE said the potential recall referendum could occur within 90 days starting in early December -- "so the event could take place in the middle of the first quarter of 2017."
The Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, opposition coalition's hopes to remove Maduro from power through a recall are nearly defeated by the CNE's ruling.
If Maduro is removed through a recall before the end of 2016, an election is automatically triggered. But if he is removed through a recall in 2017, Vice President Aristóbulo Istúriz would assume the presidency until the end of Maduro's term in early 2019 after presidential elections scheduled for late 2018.
The opposition, which has held protests throughout 2016 related to the recall, has long accused the CNE of stalling the recall referendum process in favor of Maduro.
The MUD has demanded in protests the recall referendum be held in 2016. More than 1 million Venezuelans recently took to the streets of Caracas to demand the CNE schedule the recall vote.