The opposition has yet to define its strategy going forward. While on Feb. 2nd. A petition was collected ahead of time to request the recall referendum; there are a number of groups that believe that they should be collected again. From the point of view of national opinion, there is a perception that the signatures may be illegal mainly due to the public controversy about them. In fact, in polls, 45% of Venezuelans believe that they should be gathered again while 6% are confused about the issue. Thus, a new process to collect the signatures may, from the point of view of public opinion, give the new signatures a solid footing that may be absent today.
From a technical point of view there may be two objections to the signatures gathered in February. One is that they were collected before Aug. 19th. when a Presidential recall referendum is allowed by the Constitution. While the Constitutional Hall of the Supreme Court has already ruled that this should not be a problem, the full Court may be receptive to another challenge which would simply be erased by a new petition drive after Aug. 19th. The second problem is that some lawyers have expressed their beliefs that the question posed in the petition drive that collected the previous signatures may be incorrect from a technical point of view. In particular, some interpret that the question is not a request but a proclamation and that it should be addressed to the National Electoral Council and request from it that the recall referendum be held in accordance to the Constitution.
Some opposition groups believe that it would be better to introduce the current petition so as to have the Electoral Board (CNE) explain why it may not be valid, before going through all the trouble of starting a new process. This is answered by others by saying that it would be better to rewrite the question in such a way that there are no objections from any groups.
The opposition appears to be leaning at this time towards having a new petition drive after Aug. 19th. This would eliminate all controversies about the date, will focus the opposition, will generate some positive feelings among the opposition , would be a show of strength and will give the correct image both nationally and internationally that the opposition ahs done what it ahs to do to hold the recall referendum. It would definitely would give the process complete legitimacy if all of the clouds surrounding it were removed.
At this time the opposition is considering three alternatives: i) handing it the signatures on Aug. 20th. and if reject hold another drive. ii) Handing them in on Aug. 20th. and hold another drive on the 24th. or simply hold a drive on the 24th. and hand them in soon after that. Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages. From the point of view of public relations, handing them in and holding a new drive four days later seems to be the worst option as it send a confusing signal to international opinion and the electoral itself. While there appears to be some advantages to submitting the current petition and waiting for an opinion from the CNE, at the same time this would represent a loss of precious time as well and would open the way to numerous challenges at this time.
While there are some dangers to a new petition drive for the recall referendum, such as a lack of interest or the recognition that there was something wrong with the first one, the only weak link might be that the Government might try to exploit it as a demonstration of the weaknesses of the opposition. But this will be insignificant as long as the new drive is viewed as successful and the number of signatures is larger than the first time, which should not be a problem.
We believe that the biggest advantage to a new petition drive is the pressure it would impose on both the CNE and the Supreme Court to allow the recall referendum to take place without any obstacles. By showing its commitment to the democratic process as outlined by the Constitution, these institutions would be hard pressed to allow a technicality or an interpretation to bock the process while forcing the international community to press for the referendum to take place. Whatever the option chosen, the opposition will likely reach a decision on the favored option in the next few days.