Latin America

Venezuela begins a new era

Latest data gives opposition 110 seats, but group says it has the 112 it needs for reform

Javier Lafuente
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles appears before the press after Sunday’s vote.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles appears before the press after Sunday’s vote.Fernando Llano (AP)

Venezuela’s opposition coalition has obtained 110 seats – out of a total 167 – in the National Assembly as a result of its landslide victory in Sunday’s legislative elections, according to the latest official figures.

President Nicolás Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has 55 deputies with two seats yet to be decided.

The new landscape will prove difficult for Maduro, who has vowed to carry on the Socialist revolution initiated by his predecessor Chávez

The National Electoral Council (CNE) has ascribed 107 seats to the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which groups together Venezuela’s opposition parties. To this can be added the three slots allocated to representatives of indigenous communities where parties or candidates in coalition with the MUD won.

The two remaining seats could deliver the opposition the decisive two-thirds majority it needs to have maximum parliamentary power.

Embroiled in a deep political and economic crisis that has caused severe food shortages and sent crime levels soaring, Venezuelans on Sunday voted to turn their back on 17 years of parliamentary rule by backers of the regime of the late president Hugo Chávez and swept opposition forces into power in the National Assembly.

What the opposition can do

The number of seats held by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) in the National Assembly will determine how much power it will hold in the new session, which begins in January.

A simple majority (84 of the 167 seats) allows it to organize a commission to appoint Supreme Court justices and a new attorney general. It will also have the power to pass an amnesty law that would free opposition political prisoners, such as Leopoldo López.

If the MUD obtains three-fifths of the seats (101 or higher), its deputies will be able to pass ordinary laws and censure the vice president and ministers, which could lead to their removal.

Two-thirds of the National Assembly (at least 112 seats) will permit the MUD to remove top officials from other branches of government, including the Supreme Court and members of the National Electoral Council (CNE).

It will also be able to draft organic laws, promote referendums, constitutional reforms, and call together a Constitutional Assembly, as well as submit international treaties to a referendum if lawmakers believe they violate national sovereignty.

The MUD was on Monday predicting that it would achieve that majority with a total of 112 members in parliament, with 51 going to Maduro’s PSUV and four yet to be decided. The latest count by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on Monday night gave 107 seats to the MUD, 55 to the PSUV, and three slots to representatives of indigenous communities. Two final seats were still undetermined.

Then on Tuesday the count evolved again: 110 opposition deputies, 55 to the PSUV and two still undecided.

As things stand, the MUD has only a three-fifths majority that would allow it to censure the vice president and ministers but leave it unable to change the Constitution and remove certain officials, such as the justices on the Supreme Court. In other words, it will not be able to totally dismantle the structures that have been in place for the past 17 years.

Even so, such a political landscape will provide a difficult situation for President Maduro, who has vowed to carry on the Socialist revolution initiated by his predecessor Chávez.

Maduro is also facing a series of personal setbacks. He lacks Chávez’s charisma and has become separated from rank and file supporters. Then there is the backstage role the country’s military has been playing leading up to the elections, which has raised questions over whether Maduro has firm control of the armed forces.

During the last stages of the campaign, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino sought to calm fears stoked by Maduro’s incendiary speeches ahead of Sunday’s vote, which some analysts interpreted as a sign that the military had distanced itself from the president.

Maduro has nevertheless accepted the “adverse results” of the election, blaming them on the economic war waged by political interest groups both inside the country and from abroad.

After years of suffering insults and backlashes – including expulsions – from the PSUV and its supporters, MUD will now finally have control of the National Assembly, which has the power to limit the policies of Maduro’s government.

But the opposition’s message is also one of reconciliation. “We don’t want a National Assembly out for revenge, but one of justice,” said opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles on Monday.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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