CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) – Venezuela's electoral authorities are to announce Tuesday whether moves to stage a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro can go ahead after verifying signatures on an opposition-organized petition.
The outcome could open the way to a vote to oust Maduro, the chosen successor to late president Hugo Chavez who is ruling over an economy crippled by mismanagement and low oil prices.
But the government has said the petition is riddled with fake signatures and stated the referendum cannot happen this year.
The head of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, on Sunday told the Televen television network that verification of the petition would be completed on Monday and the result would be given the next day.
For a referendum to be contemplated, the signatures of just under 200,000 voters -- one percent of the registered electorate -- have to be verified on the petition.
The next step would then be a second petition to be signed by 20 percent of voters, around four million people.
The opposition MUD coalition organized the initial petition which it said gathered two million signatures.
But many of those were discarded, and the National Electoral Council went on to invalidate 600,000 more signatures.
But the MUD says the remaining signatures -- twice of what is needed -- have all been authenticated, with supporters submitting fingerprints as proof.
It is seeking to have the referendum held before January 10, 2016, which would trigger fresh elections.
If a recall vote were held after that date and succeeds, the constitution calls for Maduro to be replaced by his loyal vice president, Aristobulo Isturiz.
Public support for Maduro has plummeted amid scarcities of food and other basic goods.
The president, who claims Venezuela is the victim of a plot by shadowy economic forces, has invoked a state of emergency and given greater powers to the military.