CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez will face a recall referendum, the elections council said Tuesday, setting the date of Aug. 15 for the vote. Council president Francisco Carrasquero said Venezuela's opposition had compiled 2.54 million votes to demand the recall, surpassing the 2.43 million signatures -- 20 percent of the electorate -- required by the constitution. It was the first formal announcement by the council that Chavez would face a recall since the council predicted there likely would be a vote based on preliminary signature totals last week.
Chavez had accepted that he would face a recall and has launched a campaign in which he predicts he will trounce his opponents in "a decisive battle."
Elections council vice president Ezequiel Zamora told reporters that the five-member council voted unanimously Tuesday to set the date and use automated voting machines for the referendum.
The August time element is important. Should Chavez lose a recall by Aug. 19 -- which marks the completion of the fourth year of Chavez's six-year term -- new elections would be held within a month. After Aug. 19, his vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, would serve out the remainder of his term.
Government foes fear that Chavez, a populist who led a failed coup attempt in 1992, would govern from behind the scenes if Rangel takes over.
Zamora said that the results whenever they are released would be considered as taking effect before Aug. 19.
For many poor Venezuelans, Chavez's self-proclaimed revolution has meant hope for better health care, education and greater access to their country's vast oil wealth.
For Chavez's adversaries, the revolution means increasingly authoritarian rule and inflammatory rhetoric that has stoked tensions between rich and poor. His opponents fear he is trying to impose a Cuban-style dictatorship marked by deteriorating relations with the United States.
Earlier Thursday, Chavez predicted in a speech that he would win at least 5 million votes and defeat the referendum.
"They've spent several years trying to oust me and I believe they'll spend many more years trying to oust me," Chavez said in a speech in the western town of La Ceiba.
Chavez says he intends to seek re-election and govern at least until 2013.
Some surveys say a majority of Venezuelans will vote against Chavez, citing high crime and a floundering economy. Others say Chavez, boosted by high oil revenues, will win a vote. Some polls put his support at 40 percent, extremely high by regional standards.