A vote to recall President Nicolas Maduro looked likely to miss a key opposition deadline, after the Venezuelan electoral authority said Tuesday that the next phase of the process to call the vote would not take place until the end of October.
National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena said it would take that long to meet the technical and logistical demands of the next phase, in which referendum supporters will attempt to collect signatures from 20 per cent of Venezuela's electorate, about 4 million people. She did not specify a date in October or give further details.
The opposition coalition United Democracy Roundtable (MUD) had said it wanted to proceed with signature collection later this month. It has accused the government-allied elections authority of deliberately stalling the process to delay the vote.
Holding the referendum later could weaken the effects of the referendum even if it is successful.
According to rules laid out in Venezuela's constitution, the referendum must be held within 90 days of a successful signature collection. A vote held before January 10 would trigger new elections if Maduro is recalled.
After that date, power would devolve to his appointed vice-president, leaving power in the hands of the governing Socialist party until the end of Maduro's term in January 2019.
Opposition leaders condemned the delay and have called a September 1 national demonstration in favor of the referendum. MUD leader Jesus Torrealba said the referendum would be held in 2016 no matter what.
Venezuela has been mired for months in an economic and political crisis, as economic mismanagement, sky-high inflation and falling oil prices have led to widespread shortages of food and medicines, for which the government and opposition blame each other.