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Venezuela: Key Takeaways from Maduro’s Failed Parliamentary Coup

On January 5, Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime attempted to seize control of Venezuela’s last remaining democratic institution, the National Assembly. The coup failed. Although physically barred from the legislative building, 100 of the 167-member National Assembly convened elsewhere to re-elect democratic opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the body’s president, allowing him to continue in his role as interim president of the country.

Last Sunday, Venezuela’s National Assembly voted on the body’s leadership for the upcoming 2020-2021 legislative year. In spite of Maduro’s persecution of and attempts to bribe the opposition, the re-election of Juan Guaidó as the National Assembly president seemed assured, as the amount of opposition deputies far outnumbered Maduro’s supporters. This vote was critical, as the leader of the National Assembly also serves as Venezuela’s interim president in accordance with the constitution, in light of Maduro’s refusal to relinquish power after his fraudulent election in May 2018.

On the morning of the National Assembly vote, the regime deployed police and National Guard troops to block opposition members from entering the legislative palace and allowed only members of Maduro’s United Socialist Party, members of sympathizing parties and those reportedly bribed by the regime to enter. Guaidó and several other deputies attempted to climb the fence to the legislative compound but were pushed back by troops with riot shields.

Here are three key takeaways from this dramatic confrontation: 

1. The Maduro regime attempted to stage a legislative coup—and failed.

On Sunday morning, Maduro-supporting deputies occupied the National Assembly chamber and used force to prevent opposition members from participating. There was no head count, no means of verifying identities of the persons present and no quorum – the minimum number of members that should be present for the proceedings to be valid.   

In a tumultuous free-for-all session inside the palace, those present, allegedly including non-deputies, acclaimed Luis Parra, an expelled member of the opposition First Justice political party (Primero Justicia, PJ) as the president of the assembly in little more than a show of hands. Parra was one of the former opposition members accused of accepting bribes from the regime. Following the session, Parra announced that he had been elected by 81 of the alleged 150 deputies present, although neither figure could be verified.

In the end, Maduro’s attempted coup failed because he was unable to prevent the legitimate legislature from meeting and holding a vote.

2. The legitimate National Assembly voted for Guaidó as its president—a result affirmed by the international community.

On Sunday afternoon, Guaidó and a quorum of assembly deputies were able to gather in the auditorium of the newspaper El Nacional to hold an independent vote. This session followed constitutional and parliamentary procedures and was covered by the press. Guaidó was re-elected president by a roll call vote of 100-0. The Lima Group of Latin American countries, the European Union, the United States and the Organization of American States denounced Maduro’s coup attempt and recognized the results of the legitimate National Assembly.

3. The Maduro regime now controls two faux democratic legislative bodies. 

The regime now has two unconstitutional legislative bodies: the National Constituent Assembly Maduro created in 2017 that is composed only of pro-regime lawmakers, and the “new National Assembly,” created Sunday and led by pro-regime lawmakers as well as a handful of opposition deputies who have been accused of accepting regime bribes. All three assemblies seek to meet in the legislative palace.

What’s Next for Venezuela’s Democratic Opposition?

On Tuesday, January 7, the legitimate National Assembly had planned to conduct legislative business in the palace, but members of the Parra block were already inside. As opposition deputies arrived, regime police again attempted to block their entrance, but the deputies peacefully pushed their way inside. There, Juan Guaidó was sworn in as president as Parra and his legislative board were seen leaving the palace.

The scenes of the past week demonstrate the regime’s resolve to damage the democratic opposition and with it the will of the Venezuelan people to hold a new presidential vote. With the National Assembly slated to select new members of the National Electoral Council, it is unsurprising that the regime would want to take control of the body so it can determine the membership of the council and set rules that will further isolate Venezuela’s opposition politicians.

Assembly deputies will be up for election in 2020, and it is expected that Maduro will find a way to corrupt or hijack that vote in order to give the appearance of democratic legitimacy while maintaining authoritarian rule. In short, the opposition faces a regime that is determined to cling to power at any cost.