Venezuela’s Supreme Court takes over legislative functions of parliament

March 31, 2017 6:00 pm

A view of the National Assembly building in Caracas, , on March 30, 2017 (photo by AFP)

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has
taken over the legislative functions of the country’s parliament after
ruling that the legislature is in contempt of court.

“As
long as the National Assembly’s contempt of court and invalidity
persist, parliamentary powers shall be exercised directly by [the
Supreme Court’s] constitutional chamber or by the body it stipulates to
safeguard the rule of law,” the Supreme Court announced in a ruling.
The
court had ruled in August 2016 that the opposition majority in the
National Assembly was in contempt for swearing in three lawmakers from
the southern Amazonas State who had already been suspended over
electoral fraud and vote-buying accusations.
The latest Supreme
Court ruling is almost certain to worsen the political tensions gripping
the South American country, where President Nicolas Maduro is facing
fierce attempts by the opposition to force him from power.
The
Supreme Court’s ruling came a day after it stripped lawmakers of their
legislative immunity, clearing the way for them to face prosecution.
The
main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, won a
landslide in legislative elections in December 2015 with a promise to
oust Maduro from power. That forced Maduro and his United Socialist
Party of Venezuela into sharing power for the first time since its
founder, Hugo Chavez, surged to power in 1999.
Maduro has accused
opposition lawmakers of treason for asking the Washington-based
Organization of American States (OAS) to consider suspending Venezuela
from the bloc.
In reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the
United States described the move as an effort to “usurp the powers” of
the parliament.
The secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, also accused Maduro’s government of carrying out a “self-coup.”
Peru
also recalled its ambassador from Caracas in protest and promised to
step up efforts to eject Venezuela from the OAS for what it called a
“flagrant breach of the democratic order.”
Other regional powers
such as Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina also warned that the de facto
annulment of the Venezuelan parliament could be a threat to democratic
governance in the country.
Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry accused
the governments critical of Caracas of forming a “right-wing regional
pact” against Maduro, who has called the OAS a pawn of US “imperialism.”

Venezuela’s
President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with ministers at
Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, February 9, 2017. (Photo by
Reuters)In the December 2015 elections, in
which Maduro lost control of the parliament, voters displayed their
anger at soaring inflation, rising poverty, and severe shortages of
medicine and basic commodities that have been going on in the country
since before those polls.
Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
Since then, relations between the executive and legislative bodies have been stuck in tensions.
Last year, the opposition launched an abortive attempt to force Maduro from power by seeking to hold a recall referendum.
The
opposition has now called on Venezuelans to take to streets in rallies
to oppose the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, which is allied to
Maduro.

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