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.