Venezuela's Supreme Court rules void opposition-led National Assembly

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  Jan. 12, 2016 at 1:07 PM
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CARACAS, Venezuela, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled the National Assembly is invalid and its decisions void until three suspended opposition members are removed from parliament.

Past and future decisions made by the National Assembly since the new parliament was sworn in on Wednesday have been nullified, the Supreme Court's Electoral Chamber ruled.

Earlier this month, Venezuela's highest court suspended three Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, coalition parliament members and one pro-government member who were elected to the National Assembly in the historic Dec. 6 elections pending an investigation over allegations of electoral fraud brought forward by the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV.

The four suspended members are from Venezuela's southwestern state of Amazonas, which is rural and sparsely populated. The suspension seemingly takes away the opposition coalition's two-thirds qualified majority, or supermajority.

Despite the suspension, MUD accused the court of only ruling to strip the coalition of its newfound powers in favor of the PSUV and swore in all its members, which led to the most recent court ruling.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced in December that the MUD reached the coveted two-thirds parliamentary majority in the unicameral National Assembly with 112 seats. National Assembly members are elected to five-year terms.

Constitutional experts disagree on the circumstances surrounding the suspension, particularly if it means the four invalidated seats reduce the overall seats of parliament from 167 to 163 -- which would maintain the opposition's supermajority.

Newly designated National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup condemned the court's recent ruling. Venezuela's Supreme Court has nearly always ruled in favor of the PSUV, particularly under former President Hugo Chavez.

"There is no doubt that the Supreme Court Express is to the service of the government to override the public will," Allup wrote on Twitter.

PSUV deputy leader Diosdado Cabello, who preceded Allup as the parliamentary president, supported the court's ruling.

"The logical, sane and democratic step is for the National Assembly's leadership to revoke the swearing-in of these lawmakers," Cabello said. "If the National Assembly is in contempt, nobody is going to recognize it."

About 85 percent of people in Venezuela are dissatisfied with the status of the country, up from 57 percent soon after Chavez died in 2013, a recent study by the Pew Research Center indicates. Eight percent of Venezuelans aged 18 to 29 are happy with the country's condition, compared to 21 percent of Venezuelans aged 50 and older.

Inflation is seen as Venezuela's most significant issue, rated by 92 percent of Venezuelans as a problem. The South American country has one of the fastest annual inflation rates in the world, estimated between at least 80 percent to far more than 120 percent. Food shortages have also contributed to growing discontent.

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