Venezuela's electoral authority has announced that a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro will not be held this year in a blow to the opposition.
Following a Wednesday meeting with government and opposition officials, the country’s National Electoral Council released a statement announcing that "the event could be held in the middle of the first quarter of 2017."
The ruling serves as a major blow to the country’s opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), whih was calling for the referendum to be held ahead of January 10 because it would set off new elections if Maduro lost by then.
If Maduro loses in a later vote, his vice president would complete his mandate, leaving the current socialist government in power.
The council also determined rules for the referendum, announcing that four million signatures - 20 percent of voters - must be collected over the course of three days between October 26 and 28.
The opposition has been calling for protests across the county to push for the recall referendum against the president.
Maduro, who has been under fire by his critics for causing the country's recession, blames the problems on an “economic war,” which he says the opposition has waged with a helping hand from the United States in an attempt to bring about a coup d’état in the oil-rich country.