President Nicolas Maduro's attempt to end Venezuela's constitutional crisis starts work on Friday. But the opposition and countries critical of Maduro dispute the new body's legitimacy.

Venezuelan protesters dressed as independence hero Simon Bolivar have been a regular sight during anti-Maduro marches.
Venezuelan protesters dressed as independence hero Simon Bolivar have been a regular sight during anti-Maduro marches.

Venezuela's Constituent Assembly starts work on Friday, with wide-ranging powers and an indefinite mandate under President Nicolas Maduro. But the opposition and foreign critics dispute its legitimacy, raising the question of how effective the new body can be.

What we know

The Constituent Assembly will take over the chamber which was until now occupied by the opposition-controlled congress, the National Assembly.

One of its key members, ex-foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, said that both assemblies might operate in the same building. That remains to be seen, however.

The opposition has called a protest in Caracas on Thursday against what it calls the "fraudulent" Constituent Assembly.

The Constituent Assembly has powers to dissolve the National Assembly if it deems fit.

Its principal task is to rewrite the constitution, which Maduro has said will resolve the country's economic and political crisis.

According to the electoral authority, more than 40 percent of the 20-million-strong electorate voted last Sunday in the election appointing the 545-member Constituent Assembly.

According to the electoral authority, more than 40 percent of the 20-million-strong electorate voted. (AP)
According to the electoral authority, more than 40 percent of the 20-million-strong electorate voted. (AP)

However, a British firm that supplied the voting technology, Smartmatic, said that official turnout figure was inflated – "tampered with" – by at least one million voters.

The National Electoral Council denies that, dismissing it as the firm's baseless "opinion."

The United States, European Union and a dozen Latin American countries have said they do not recognise the new assembly. Washington has directly sanctioned Maduro, calling him a "dictator."

Of the 545 member of the new assembly, two-thirds were selected by voting district, and the remainder to represent different social or industrial sectors.

All are Maduro loyalists – among them his wife and son – because the opposition boycotted the vote.

The opposition fears the new body will be a rubber-stamp entity for Maduro to rule autocratically.

The president has promised to submit the future draft constitution to a referendum. In the meantime, the Constituent Assembly has executive and legislative heft overriding any other institution.

President Nicolas Maduro addresses supporters at a rally in Caracas. (Reuters)
President Nicolas Maduro addresses supporters at a rally in Caracas. (Reuters)

What we don't know

It's unknown how long the Constituent Assembly will be in session. Its members will have to decide.

If it dissolves the National Assembly or gets rid of the attorney general's office, as has been threatened, Maduro wants parliamentary immunity to be lifted from opposition lawmakers, who he alleges have incited violence at protests.

He has called for a truth commission to prosecute the crimes of the conservative opposition, but it's not clear whether the new assembly will pursue that path.

The attorney general, Luisa Ortega, has been a thorn in Maduro's side for four months.

She says the new body has no legitimacy and represents the president's "dictatorial ambition."

She was loyal to his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, but says Maduro is undermining the constitution and rule of law in Venezuela. (Reuters)
She was loyal to his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, but says Maduro is undermining the constitution and rule of law in Venezuela. (Reuters)

If the overdue state elections are to be held, they would likely depend on the decisions of the Constituent Assembly.

The opposition has warned that the presidential election due in 2018 could also be thrown into limbo.

That could suit Maduro, whose support is around 20 percent according to surveys by the polling firm Datanalisis.

It is also unknown what measures the Constituent Assembly could bring in to lift Venezuela out of its crisis.

The political scene is deeply polarised, with little prospect so far of negotiations.

And the economy is in ruins, with inflation spiralling above 700 percent this year, monthly salaries counted in the equivalent of tens of dollars, hunger becoming prevalent as food becomes more scarce, medicine almost impossible to find and currency reserves fast running out.

Source: AFP