Venezuela’s newly-elected congress is set to be sworn in, with the ruling Socialist Party taking control of the country’s legislature, consolidating President Nicolas Maduro’s hold on power and removing US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido from the political scene.
The shift in legislative power will take place on Tuesday.
In a move some criticized as a strategic error, the opposition led by Guaido boycotted the country’s December 6, 2020 parliamentary elections, which led to a landslide victory for the ruling party and ended the opposition’s control of the National Assembly.
Guaido will thus be out of a job as National Assembly speaker, losing the limited institutional legitimacy he held and leaving foreign governments backing his unilateral claim to the presidency — mainly the United States — in a difficult position.
In January 2019, Guaido unilaterally proclaimed himself “interim president” after rejecting the victory of Maduro in the May 2018 presidential election. The US offered immediate recognition and support to the little-known opposition figure. Guaido later launched an abortive coup, also with American support, strengthening speculation that he worked in coordination with Washington to undermine or topple the Socialist Maduro.
“An important part of the opposition has adopted the extremist vision that was imposed from Washington during the [US President Donald] Trump era,” Maduro declared in a television interview on January 1. “The Trump era is ending. We will see how that part of the opposition reacts.”
Guaido, however, has vowed to press on, pledging a “diplomatic offensive” to ensure that as many countries as possible would avoid recognizing the socialist-held congress, further calling on his supporters to take to the streets.
“The national parliament will not be stopped until we have seen free elections take place in Venezuela,” he proclaimed in a Sunday video message posted on Twitter.
This is while Guaido is faced with increasingly weak opposition mobilization.
A referendum-style consultation called by Guaido and held over five days in December 2020 for people to censure the December 6 vote failed to muster the large numbers of opposition supporters that took part in violent demonstrations in 2019.
The opposition-led National Assembly passed a decree also in December allowing itself to continue functioning in parallel with the new chamber until fresh polls are held in 2021.
But political scientist Jesus Castillo-Mollendo said the unilateral ruling had no basis in law, adding that it did not enjoy popular support.
“Inside Venezuela, everyone knows that this position is more symbolic than anything, that there is no way of exercising it because there is no control of the institutions,” he told AFP.
The Trump administration has recognized the opposition-held congress’ one-year extension of its own term, though other Western supporters of Guaido, including the European Union (EU), have yet to agree the opposition still rightfully controls parliament.