Conflict of Powers Looms as Venezuela’s New Assembly Prepares to Convene

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

The opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) held a press conference on December 22 to denounce that Venezuela’s highest court, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), had received a petition by the ruling party PSUV to challenge 22 of the MUD deputies elected on December 6 to the new National Assembly, which will convene on January 5, 2016.

The loss of even one elected deputy would mean that the opposition could be deprived of the two thirds supermajority in the next Assembly. The Secretary of the MUD, Jesús Torrealba, said he has already informed UNASUR, the OAS and the European Union   about what he called a “judicial coup d’état” under way.

However, immediately following the MUD’s press conference, the TSJ issued a press release stating that it “has not received any judicial petition this week related to the challenging of the results of the parliamentary elections of December 6.”

“This note is issued due to declarations by political spokespersons and to false information that has irresponsibly been circulating in social networks,” adds the TSJ in its press note.

The alleged judicial challenge to the electoral results comes in the wake of opposition concerns that the government will try to curtail the power of the new opposition dominated National Assembly, or even preclude the new legislature from meeting in January.

The biggest threat to the new legislature so far has been the call by the President the outgoing National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, of a parallel “National Communal Parliament,” which has been actually meeting in the chamber of the national congress. Opposition concerns flared when President Maduro declared the need to “transfer all power to the Communal Parliament, which will be a grass-roots legislative instance.”

Legal expert José I. Hernández argues that the Communal Parliament is an expression of a government revolutionary rhetoric that is suspicious of elected powers that are part of a “Bourgeois State” which should eventually be demolished by more “participatory and direct” forms of government. Hernández says that the Communal Parliament has no legislative powers, but he warns that declarations by government officials about the transfer of competencies from the elected National Assembly are a matter for concern.  

Recent declarations by President Nicolás Maduro signal that the government will in fact allow the new Assembly to convene and that it is preparing for a long struggle with an opposing legislature. “The parliamentary group of the Fatherland needs to become a dynamic engine for the new phase of the Revolution, for the rectifications we need in our political style and discourse, and in our leadership in the streets,” Maduro told a group of elected PSUV deputies in a meeting at Miraflores palace.

In another sign that the government is preparing for future battles, Diosdado Cabello called the outgoing National Assembly to extraordinary sessions before the end of the year with the purpose of passing measures that would strengthen the executive before the new Assembly meets next year. On December 22, the Assembly approved changes to the “Organic Law of Public Defense,” which will, according to Cabello, protect the new General Public Defender, Susana Barreiros, “from being dismissed without a justified cause” by the next Assembly.

An attempt by Cabello to rush the designation of thirteen magistrates to the TSJ, also in an extraordinary session of the legislatures, was blocked by the opposition in the first discussion because at the moment of voting the PSUV did not have enough deputies for a supermajority needed for the appointments. An attempt by the PSUV to muster that supermajority in a second discussion also failed, but the appointments were finally approved by simple majority after a third discussion. Before ending the session, Cabello warned the opposition deputies about the future: “confrontation is inevitable and you know it. We will see under what terms and circumstances we have that confrontation.”