Tag Archives: Divided government

Venezuela – Pressure Mounts on President Maduro

The pressure continues to mount for the beleaguered president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Protests are a recurrent feature of life in Caracas; there are shortages of consumer goods in supermarkets across the country; and inflation is estimated to top 750 per cent this year. To add to his woes, the last legislative election in December saw President Maduro and his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), and his electoral coalition, the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP), lose their majority in Congress to the opposition alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). Venezuela’s problems are now compounded by divided government.

As I have discussed on this blog, although the opposition won enough seats for the all-important two thirds majority, some political shenanigans managed to prevent the super-majority taking all of their seats. The Supreme Court, which the MUD have accused of being full of Maduro’s supporters, barred three opposition legislators and one from the governing coalition from taking their seats. These four legislators are all from the state of Amazonas, and the PSUV alleged that there had been irregularities during the election. To prevent the escalation of another political crisis, in January, the three opposition legislators in question, Julio Haron Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana, agreed to give up their seats while investigations into the alleged electoral irregularities continue.

The opposition however, although they now don’t have the magic two-thirds needed for constitutional reform, are using their healthy majority to good advantage. With Maduro’s approval rating in the low thirties, opposition attacks on his administration are coming thick and fast. Although attempts to cut term limits from six to four years, forcing elections to be held in 2016 were curtailed by the denial of their super-majority, one opposition party, Voluntad Popular, led by incarcerated political leader Leopoldo López, are proposing a constitutional assembly to rewrite the constitution (and presumably reverse many of the reforms that gave the current incumbent such political power). At the same time, another opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, is pushing for a revocatory referendum – basically a public vote of confidence in President Maduro and his administration. The opposition however, would need to present 4 million signatures (or 20 per cent of the electorate) to the electoral commission for this referendum to go ahead.

And last week, Congress passed an amnesty law that would allow 77 political prisoners, which have been jailed by the government, to be set free. These would include the highly popular opposition leader, Leopoldo López. The Venezuelan constitution does not grant President Maduro veto power, but presidents are allowed to refer a bill to the Supreme Court, who can rule on the legitimacy of the legislation. So far, in the government’s battle with Congress, the Supreme Court has proven to be President Maduro’s best ally, striking down a number of the opposition initiatives.  In this case, an amnesty such as this can be challenged if any of those to be released have breached human rights laws. The opposition argue that this simply would not be realistic.

Executive-legislative relations in Venezuela looks set to only deteriorate.

Venezuela – Opposition Legislators Give Up Seats in Stand-Off

For Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s president and the chosen successor of Hugo Chávez, life has been very difficult recently. With shortages of goods in supermarkets across the country, spiraling inflation, protests and a record low oil price, political capital has been hard to generate. President Maduro’s woes were compounded by a very poor electoral result last month for his party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), and his electoral coalition, the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP), which has resulted in divided government.

In December, elections were held to choose all 167 legislators for the unicameral Venezuelan National Assembly. Voter discontent and somewhat ironically, the shift to a mixed-majoritarian electoral system, allowed the opposition alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), to win a very healthy majority in the house, and overturn the government majority for the first time in seventeen year.[1] The PSUV, penalized by the majoritarianism of the new electoral system, won only 55 of the seats. In contrast, the MUD managed to win 109 of the seats in the house, including the three seats reserved for indigenous representatives.

This gives the MUD the magic supermajority, which would allow them to begin the process of peeling back many of the reforms of the Bolivarian revolution; change the constitution; and appoint new Supreme Court justices. However last Monday, the current Supreme Court, which the MUD have accused of being full of Maduro’s supporters, barred three opposition legislators and one from the governing coalition from taking their seats. These four legislators are all from the state of Amazonas, and the PSUV alleged that there had been irregularities during the election. These four legislators were to be suspended until an investigation into electoral practices could be conducted.

If these three MUD legislators are unable to take their seats, then the opposition coalition loses their crucial two-thirds supermajority majority, significantly curtailing their ability to dismantle the Bolivarian reforms.

Regardless, on Wednesday of last week, the three opposition members of the Assembly were officially sworn in. On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that any decisions from the Assembly would be overturned, as the house has breached the Constitution by allowing these three legislators to be sworn in. In response, on Tuesday, the National Assembly President, Henry Ramos Allup, was forced to suspend the legislative session as the house lacked the necessary quorum following the refusal of the PSUV to take their seats.

A serious political crisis appeared to be brewing, which would only add to the country’s economic and social woes.

The political stand-off ended yesterday when the three opposition legislators in question, Julio Haron Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana, agreed to give up their seats while investigations into the alleged electoral irregularities continue.

As it stands, MUD now only has 109 active seats, a 65 per cent majority and just short of the two thirds supermajority. Although an imminent crisis has been averted, I suspect that this will most likely not be the end of conflict between Maduro’s government and the opposition-controlled house.

[1] For a great analysis of the recent elections, which highlights the role of the electoral system change, have a look at John Carey’s Monkey Page post here.