CARACAS, Venezuela – A month after the opposition won big in the Venezuelan election, the representatives of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition were sworn in as new members of the unicameral National Assembly, where they are now led by Henry Ramos Allup.
Ramos Allup, head of the centrist Democratic Action party, beat out Julio Borges of the center-right Justice First party to become the new President of the 167-seat National Assembly, now in the hands of the MUD after the coalition won 112 seats in last month’s election. The coalition now has an absolute majority in the National Assembly after having passed the necessary threshold of two-thirds of the seats.
The 72-year-old lawyer is now tasked with “changing the government,” to use his words, as President Nicolás Maduro and his Ministers are still mandated to remain in power until 2019.
Thus, the aims of the MUD are now to initiate some sort of mechanism that will attempt to recall or impeach Maduro before his term expires and call for early elections, and Ramos Allup has already announced that he would approve a parliamentary investigation into Maduro’s decisions and actions.
Despite warnings from the MUD deputies that there would be “unrest” caused by the pro-Maduro crowd, the swearing-in ceremony of Ramos Allup and the rest of the new MUD parliamentary members passed without a hitch.
Meanwhile, both supporters and detractors of Maduro gathered outside as Maduro delivered a presidential address that called for calm and peace. Riot police and other security units were dispatched throughout important sites in Caracas as a safety measure.
The “Chavistas,” or government supporters named in reference to “Chavismo” (the name for the brand of political and social policies instituted by former leader Hugo Chávez during his long tenure from 1999 until his death in 2013), congregated near Miraflores, the presidential palace. The MUD supporters, on the other hand, gathered just east of the National Assembly building.
Back inside the parliamentary chambers, meanwhile, Ramos Allup ordered the removal of all iconography bearing the image of Chávez and Maduro, leaving on the walls only the old oil paintings of native son, national hero and liberator Simón Bolívar.
In October, Maduro said that the elections “could be the most difficult elections faced” by the political movement forged by former leader Hugo Chávez, and he was right.
According to the National Electoral Council, the MUD coalition won 109 seats (plus three seats reserved for indigenous groups) through 65.27 percent of the popular vote. The Great Patriotic Pole, which consists of Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and the Bicentennial Republican Vanguard (VBR), won 55 seats with 32.93 percent of the vote.
The votes determined that the MUD gained 48 seats from the previous session (2010-2015) while the Great Patriotic Pole lost 44 seats, which meant that the Chavistas lost their majority in the National Assembly for the first time since 1999 (back when their coalition was known as the Fifth Republic Movement).
Led by the iconic Chávez, the “Bolivarian Revolution” was immensely popular in Venezuela for well over a decade but a series of developments over the last several years severely damaged its popularity and reputation.
Fed up with issues like high inflation, shortages, high crime rates, insecurity and what they deem to be political repression, the populace of Venezuela has been increasingly turning away from the party, especially since the death of Chávez in March of 2013 and the subsequent worsening economic situation in the country, brought about mostly by the sharp fall of oil prices and other commodities.
For those same reasons, various anti-government groups and opposition leaders took to the streets on February 12, 2014, and the violent march that ensued ended in three dead and hundreds injured. The demonstrations, organized and led by opposition figure Leopoldo López, intensified for several weeks thereafter and left 43 Venezuelans dead (mostly security figures) before calm returned to the nation.
In September of 2015, López was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison for his part in the disturbances after having been detained at the Ramo Verde military prison in the interior of the country, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Greater Caracas in the town of Los Teques, since February 18 of 2014.
López, who was already banned from serving in a public office in 2008 after he orchestrated similar demonstrations that ended in violence, was a decisive character among the opposition. With a shady past as he was implicated for receiving illegal promotions and kickbacks within the state oil company due to his mother’s long-held political connections, and his fiery anti-dialogue demeanor, López divided the opposition.
In the aftermath of the protests and his arrest, the mainstream segment of the opposition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), has remained firmly in opposition to Maduro’s ruling government but peacefully, choosing to battle Maduro and the PSUV through democratic elections. On the other side are members of La Salida (The Exit), a radical dissident faction of the MUD that has refused to participate in any dialogue with Maduro and has called for an immediate change in leadership, urging an outright ousting of Maduro through mass mobilizations. López is the most prominent member of La Salida.
After López’s sentence, however, that fractured opposition only further unified and solidified their respective voting blocks for December’s ultimately successful elections. The new majority in the National Assembly is planning to propose a bill very soon that will seek to free “political prisoners” across the country, including López.