Venezuela opposition takes control of legislature

Venezuela’s opposition takes control of Congress for first time in 16 years

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Deputies of Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD) pose for a picture in front of a giant picture of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez after a session of the National Assembly in Caracas on January 5, 2016

Updated Jan 6, 2016

The Venezuelan opposition coalition (MUD) took control of Congress on Tuesday for the first time in 16 years, starting a power struggle with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro amid a worsening economic crisis.

The Congress swore in deputies to 163 of the 167 seats, with three opposition and one pro-Maduro lawmaker.

The preceding hours of the session were marred by quarrelling in the assembly as the opposition coalition clashed with members of Maduro's United Socialist Party.

In December, the opposition coalition won a two-thirds majority with 112 seats in legislative election by benefiting from anger over a shrinking economy, soaring prices and chronic product shortages reminiscent of Soviet-bloc economies.

Maduro dismissed the new assembly as "right-wing" and "bourgeois," and blaimed the opposition for preparing to roll back social programs created by late socialist President Hugo Chavez.

Opposition legislator Henry Ramos was elected as the new head of Congress in a rowdy session in which both sides shouted slogans at each other and traded charges of corruption and betrayal.

"What did we offer in our campaign? To recover the autonomy of the legislative branch," said Ramos in his opening speech to Congress.

"This has been the loudspeaker of the presidential palace, the echo chamber of the executive branch," he added.

Henry Ramos Allup, deputy of Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD) and president of the National Assembly, gives a speech during a session in Caracas on January 5, 2016 (Reuters)

Ramos boasted the opposition’s victory in controlling the legislature by abruptly cutting off one Socialist Party deputy’s diatribe against the opposition saying that he had run out of time.

As a socialist interrupted Ramos’ speech, he brushed him aside by saying "Take it easy, congressman, things have changed here."

The opposition won its most decisive victory in Dec. 6 since Chaves took power in 1999. His generous spending of oil revenue had made him nearly invincible at the polls during his 14-year rule.

Chavez’s successor Maduro has struggled since his election in 2013 to maintain the latter’s charisma. His government has repeatedly balked at implementing broad economic reforms despite promising them.

On Tuesday, reporters asked questions to deputies and walked freely on the floor of Congress for the first time in years, which was previously prohibited by the socialist leadership.

The portrait of Chaves in the main congressional chamber, a symbol of what critics call illegal politicisation of public institutions, was removed.

TRTWorld and agencies