Tibisay Drives a Stake Through the Heart of the 2016 Maduro Recall

Today's announcement kills the prospect of an early presidential election following a recall vote, since a late January 2017 recall would leave Maduro's vice-president to close out his term.

National Elections Council chairwoman Tibisay Lucena just announced that a the next stage of the referendum process — the collection of signatures from 20% of voters — might (not will, might) take place in “late October,” provided some more arbitrary conditions are met.

CNE norms say a recall itself would be called 90 days after the 20% of signatures are collected.

This announcement kills the prospect of early presidential elections following a recall.

Add 90 days to “late October” and you get…late January 2017. That’s after January 11th, the first day of the fourth year in Maduro’s term.

This means that even if Maduro was recalled, there would be no fresh election: Maduro’s vice-president would finish out his term.

Though couched in the kind of highly defensive and hyper-bureaucratic circumlocution Tibisay Lucena is famous for, make no mistake: this announcement kills the prospect of early presidential elections following a recall.

Today is N-Day: No Recall in 2016 Day. It’s a major turning point in this year’s political crisis and will have serious consequences, both domestically and internationally, both within the opposition and within the governing coalition.

Barring a highly unlikely climb-down, Chavismo has effectively killed the 2016 Recall Referendum: Venezuela’s last, best chance for somehow overcoming this catastrophe in some semblance of democratic order.

What comes next is highly uncertain. Street protests from the opposition are a foregone conclusion, as is heavy-handed repression from the government. Defections —potentially large— from the governing coalition are likely, and the cabinet will come under strain like never before.

Lucena has invested heavily in her reputation for never reversing a decision once she’s made it. If this decision isn’t reversed, the consequences will be ghastly.