Thousands of Venezuelans have been queueing around the country to validate signatures as part of a long-drawn-out process to request a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro.
Earlier this month, about 1.3 million people signed a petition for a recall vote – far more than the 200,000 required to move the process forward.
However, more than 600,000 of the signatures have since been rejected by the elections council.
People waiting to have their fingerprints scanned and their signatures authenticated on Monday said they were glad to do their part in the opposition’s drive to remove Maduro.
For months now, Maduro has faced increasing hostility, with opponents accusing him of driving oil-rich Venezuela to near economic collapse.
The recent slump in oil prices devastated the OPEC nation’s economic model, leading to long grocery lines, empty supermarket shelves and growing anger among the roughly 30 million residents.
Students skip school due to food shortages
Maduro, elected in 2013 after the death of president Hugo Chavez, insists he is the victim of an “economic war” led by businesses with the backing of the US.
Al Jazeera’s Virginia Lopez, reporting from outside a polling station in Caracas, said those queuing were tense because of the long wait, but also very determined to take part in the process.
“What we are seeing is very lengthy queues: people who remain defiant having to queue for five hours because, on the one hand, it’s less than the time they have to wait in line just to buy bread,” she said.
“But, on the other hand, they are desperately trying to find a democratic way out for a government they describe as increasingly authoritative and also unable to manage the economy.”
During the current phase of the process, the opposition must validate close to 200,000 signatures, equivalent to one percent of the number of registered voters.
Doing so would give them a chance to conduct a second officially sanctioned signature drive, in which they would have to garner close to 4 million signatures in order to trigger the recall.
Maduro and allies insist the referendum cannot take place this year because the opposition waited too long before beginning the referendum campaign.
The timing is important because if Maduro loses a referendum this year, elections officials would call a new vote – which polls indicate he is likely to lose.
Losing a referendum after January would mean he would be replaced by his vice president, effectively leaving the Socialist Party in power.[Source: Al-Jazeera]