CARACAS – Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would be unable to recall him if a referendum is convened by the National Electoral Council, a new poll has revealed.

The poll, conducted in early April by Alfredo Keller y Asociados, indicates that in case the electoral authorities determine that the opposition managed to collect enough signatures to demand the president’s recall, and the referendum is held, they will not have enough votes to recall him.

The pollsters used a sample of 1,200 people, with a margin of error of 2.7 percent, determining that 35 percent support the Chavez government, 31 percent oppose it, and 34 percent remain neutral.

“If there is a referendum, the opposition will not be able to revoke Chavez,” said Alfredo Keller at a press conference with foreign journalists in Caracas.

Keller gives special emphasis to a sector of the voting population who would abstain if a referendum is held, particularly if no viable alternative to Chavez is found.

While other recent polls have given Chavez between 41 percent and 50 percent of popular support, the neutral or “ni-ni” (neither one nor the other) sector presents an upward trend. The Datanalisis polling firm puts the neutral ones at 38.7 percent.

The pollster sees two possible scenarios: one in which the referendum is held, which would be won by Chavez, and the other in which there is no referendum. Both are negative for the opposition.

According to Keller, Chavez “sees the forest” and has a long-term strategy, while the opposition only “sees the trees,” and remain fixated only on ousting the President.

As it is customary when certain information benefits the government, the local commercial media, which is openly opposed to the government, largely ignored the Keller poll. Keller is perceived by many to be a pro-opposition polling firm.

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council is calling those who signed last December to demand recall referenda on several elected officials, and whose signatures present irregularities, to come forward and confirm their intention to request the recall. This process is known as “repair” of the signatures, and it was implemented under a polarized political atmosphere in order to avoid discarding potentially valid signatures that could decide whether the recall referenda should be held.

The process of repair of the signatures is scheduled for May 27-31. However, an internal battle within the Supreme Tribunal for Justice (Venezuela’s Supreme Court) threatens to delay the process. Likewise, several political parties of the opposition have not made a decision on their participation in the repair process, arguing that all those suspect signatures should be accepted and the recall convened immediately.

Recall referenda are a new constitutional right Venezuelans won thanks to the new Constitution drafted by an elected Constituent Assembly during Hugo Chavez’s first year in office. The referendum was an idea proposed by Chavez to the Assembly, and it was supported by the majority.

– Reprinted with permission from