CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Venezuela's National Electoral Council, or CNE, on Monday confirmed that the opposition coalition has gathered enough signatures to move to the second phase of a recall process against President Nicolas Maduro.
The ruling was announced by CNE President Tibisay Lucena, who said the opposition collected signatures of more than 1 percent of Venezuela's voting-eligible population in the South American country's 23 states and the capital, Caracas.
In the second phase of the recall referendum petition process, the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition will need to collect signatures from 20 percent, or about 4 million, of the voting-eligible population within three days.
Lucena said the opposition presented the election commission with 200,192 forms that had 1,957,779 signatures. She said 1.3 million of the signatures met with the CNE's requirements -- meaning about 30 percent of signatures were disqualified. The opposition needed to gather 200,000 signatures.
The CNE has asked the Ministry of the Public to investigate the irregularities. Last week, Jorge Rodríguez, a member of Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, mayor of Caracas and head of a signature-verification commission established by Maduro's government during the opposition's presidential recall efforts, asked the CNE to cancel the political registration of the MUD opposition -- saying it committed fraud in its recall referendum efforts.
Rodríguez said that about 56,000 signatures had "very serious irregularities; for example 10,995 people dead, 9,333 identification numbers that are nonexistent, 1,335 politically disqualified for being convicted of felonies and 3,003 under the age of 18."
The MUD has repeatedly accused the CNE of attempting to hinder the opposition's efforts to recall Maduro. The opposition held massive nationwide protests due to the election commission's repeated delays in making a ruling.
The opposition is working to hold the recall referendum, in which Venezuelans will be asked whether Maduro should be removed from the presidency, by the end of the year. Maduro's approval ratings are usually below 20 percent -- at times dipping into single digits -- meaning the likelihood of his removal is high if a recall referendum is held.