Signatures collected in first step to recall Venezuela's Maduro

Story highlights

  • Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro pass first hurdle to organize recall referendum
  • Maduro has presided over economic and social crises in Venezuela

(CNN)Venezuela's opposition has cleared a major hurdle in its push to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Opponents collected enough signatures to begin the process to recall the unpopular leader, electoral authorities said in a televised press conference Monday.
    The government certification is a significant step; for months officials said there would never be a popular vote to remove Maduro.
    But even as she announced the results Monday, Venezuela's top election official called for an investigation into irregularities in the list of signatures. There were at least 1,326 instances of voter identity fraud, National Election Council President Tibisay Lucena said.

    First step

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    By gathering 1% of voter signatures in all of Venezuela's 24 states, the opposition has completed the first step in the process of holding a recall referendum.
    Next, it will have to collect signatures from at least 20% of the country's voters, by an as-yet-undetermined date.
    Timing is key. If there's a recall vote to oust Maduro this year, there would be new elections. But if the vote happens in 2017, Maduro's vice president would take the reins.
    If there's no recall vote, Maduro's presidential term is set to end in 2019.
    The President, heir to the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, has vowed that efforts to remove him from office won't succeed.

    Mired in economic crisis

    The country is battling an economic crisis, with many Venezuelans lacking access to enough food and basic health care.
    Protests over the government have been raging for months, culminating in the recall effort. Many are fed up with the widespread shortages of basic goods and medical supplies, factory shutdowns and blackouts
    Venezuela has the world's largest proven reserves of oil, but there has been a worldwide slump in oil prices.
    Maduro and his government have placed the blame for the widespread problems squarely on his political opponents, claiming a right-wing economic war is targeting his country.
    But the President's opponents say Venezuela can't pay to import goods because its government is desperately strapped for cash after years of mismanagement of funds, heavy spending on poorly run government programs and lack of investment in its oil fields.
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    Raging inflation has annihilated salaries, and violent crime is rampant.
    At times, Venezuelans can't even turn on the lights -- a problem the government says stems from extreme drought hampering the country's hydroelectric capabilities.
    Last month, tens of thousands of Venezuelans flooded across the Colombian border to buy necessities such as milk, flour and toilet paper.
    Venezuela is expected to dive deeper into the abyss, according to International Monetary Fund projections published last month. It estimates the economy will shrink by 10% this year.