Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice ruled late Monday that the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition must collect signatures from 20 percent of voters in each state to initiate a recall referendum. Previously, the only restriction was that opposition needed to collect nearly 4 million signatures nationwide. File Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA
CARACAS, Venezuela, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Venezuela's highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, ruled late Monday the opposition must collect signatures from 20 percent of voters in each state to initiate a recall referendum -- aggravating an already difficult task.
Previously, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, opposition coalition had to collect 3,893,128 signatures -- exactly 20 percent -- from Venezuela's voting-eligible population between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28.
The measure was approved by Venezuela's National Electoral Council, or CNE, in September but the court ruling would have the MUD collect signatures from 20 percent of each state's electorate -- including states with rural populations where support for Maduro's socialist regime is strongest.
The signatures must be verified and approved by the CNE.
"The failure to collect that percentage in any of the states or the capital district would nullify the valid convocation of the presidential recall referendum," the court wrote in its ruling.
The CNE previously struck a blow to the opposition's efforts by releasing a timetable that would favor Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
The opposition hopes to hold the recall referendum in which citizens would be asked whether Maduro should be removed from office by Jan. 10. If held prior to that date, new elections would be triggered. If he is removed after that date, Maduro's vice president would assume the presidency until the end of Maduro's term in early 2019.
Venezuela's next presidential elections are scheduled for late 2018. The South American country is facing an economic and political crisis. The United Nation's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean predicts Venezuela's gross domestic product will decrease 4 percent in 2017.
Venezuela's institutions, including the TSJ and CNE, have long been accused of working as an extension of the socialist regime established under late former President Hugo Chavez.