Latin America

Venezuelan opposition picks new assembly speaker

MUD deputies are scheduled to be sworn in as Maduro government tries to curb their power

From left: outgoing assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores, seen on Thursday.
From left: outgoing assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores, seen on Thursday.Fernando Llano / AP

The Venezuelan opposition has elected a veteran center-left politician to become speaker of the National Assembly when it takes control on Tuesday of the legislative body, which has long been held by supporters of “Chavismo.”

The 112 opposition deputies voted on Sunday to elect Henry Ramos Allup, a long-time member of Venezuela’s historic Democratic Action (AD) party and vice president of Socialist International, to become the next speaker. AD was one of the major parties that alternated the presidency with the center-right Social Christians (Copei) after democracy was restored in 1958.

Ramos Allup will take over from Diosdado Cabello, one of the country’s most powerful politicians

Ramos Allup is expected to take over from Diosdado Cabello, one of the country’s most powerful politicians, who in turn has agreed to head up a parallel “Communal Parliament” assigned by President Nicolás Maduro.

It is not clear how the two legislative bodies will clash on policies and laws when the Communal Parliament also begins meeting this week at a former military headquarters where the late President Hugo Chávez is buried.

Following the December 6 elections, the Maduro government has been introducing a series of measures to try to curb the powers the opposition deputies will have when they take over the National Assembly, including appointing a panel of new members to the Supreme Court just days after the race.

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The Venezuelan president has attacked the incoming parliament, calling it “an upper-class assembly,” and vowed to continue with his plans to build a socialist state in Venezuela.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to review election challenges filed by Maduro’s supporters against the opposition’s victory in three states. As a precautionary measure, the top court postponed the swearing-in of four deputies – three from the opposition and one representing the government – in the southern state of Amazonas until it can review the challenges.

Among the complaints filed by government officials are allegations of vote-buying and ballot irregularities. If the challenges are accepted, new elections may be called in districts where the opposition won nine seats while the government took only one.

The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has complained that the Maduro government is trying to derail its victory and has called for its backers to march on Tuesday in downtown Caracas to Congress to support the swearing in of its new deputies.

The 112 deputies of parties aligned with MUD will have enough power to call for constitutional reforms and introduce votes of censure against Maduro’s ministers.

Maduro and his United Party of Venezuela (PSUV) were badly beaten in the parliamentary race, winning only 55 seats in the 167-member assembly. The PSUV was founded by his late predecessor Hugo Chávez.

English version by Martin Delfín.