CARACAS, Venezuela – Several prominent opposition politicians have stepped up their calls for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro through political channels as the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the opposition coalition, seeks to exercise its newfound majority in the National Assembly and remove Maduro from power three years before his mandate expires.
“Maduro and his regime have to go now,” María Corina Machado wrote on her Twitter account.
Machado’s sentiments are not surprising: as a member of La Salida (The Exit), a radical dissident faction of the MUD, she has been one of many politicians that has refused to be a part of any dialogue between the government and the opposition. La Salida has also repeatedly called for the outright ousting of Maduro through mass mobilizations.
Machado is certainly no stranger to Maduro’s government as she was removed from her legislative position in the unicameral National Assembly in March of 2014 by the then-head of said institution, Diosdado Cabello, a staunch ally of President Maduro.
Cabello said Machado was removed because she had “accepted a role as an alternate Ambassador of Panama to the OAS.” Machado traveled to Washington, D.C. for a summit of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) at the invitation of Panama, which gave up its position to speak during the meeting in order to let her speak on its behalf as an alternate representative and thus, on behalf of the Venezuelan opposition.
Cabello said that Machado “clearly violated” Articles 149 and 191 of the Venezuelan constitution, which prohibit Venezuelan Deputies from taking on a professional task simultaneously while said Deputies are elected officials in the National Assembly and accept awards or official recognition from foreign governments.
The Supreme Tribunal of Justice then ratified her dismissal and she led a contingent of several hundred loyalists from Chacaíto, a wealthy district in central-eastern Caracas, to the building that houses the National Assembly in the center of the city in attempt to enter. Clashes between police and her supporters near the building left several injured as she was rebuffed from entering the Legislative Palace.
Nearly two years later, Machado, while not serving in any official political capacity, remains one of the most visible faces of the opposition. Given her longstanding opinion of Maduro and her experience with his government, her wish for his eviction from the Miraflores Palace is hardly surprising.
What is surprising (and troubling for Maduro) now, however, is that other opposition voices are joining Machado in the ‘recall’ chorus.
In contrast to La Salida and their demands for regime change, the mainstream MUD has been simply (but voraciously) calling for a change in the ruling government’s policies.
This is no longer the case, however, as even Henrique Capriles Radonski, Governor of Miranda State and the MUD’s candidate in the last two presidential elections, is calling for Maduro’s removal. The development is significant not only because Capriles Radonski is the MUD’s most prominent politician, but also because he has been repeatedly criticized by members of the opposition in the past for being “too soft” with the Executive.
“We cannot continue like this any longer. The time has come for Venezuelans to make a decision through constitutional means and this action is imminent,” Capriles Radonski wrote in a message posted on his Twitter account.
Earlier this week, members of the Radical Cause, a center-left party in the MUD, presented a proposal to the National Assembly that seeks to amend several articles of the Venezuelan Constitution.
Their proposal is expected to be heard in several weeks, but it is almost guaranteed that the head of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, will order the proposal to be heard sooner through an emergency parliamentary decree given that he has expressed strong support for such a move.
The proposal, which would simply require a majority of the National Assembly vote to come into effect immediately, would seek three major amendments: to shorten the presidential term from six years to four, to shorten the terms of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice judges from twelve years to six and to limit both of those positions to only one re-election.
Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, was elected for yet another term in the presidential election of late 2012. Following Chávez’s death in March of 2013, Maduro served as the interim leader until a new election was held a year later where he narrowly defeated Capriles Radonski. This ensured that Maduro would finish the term for which Chávez was elected, which is scheduled to end in early February of 2019.
If the opposition’s proposal passes, however, and it is quite likely that it will, then the term would end in 2017 instead of 2019, meaning that the electoral season would begin in only a few months. The opposition, confident that the incumbent would stand no chance, have said they have no objections to Maduro running on behalf of the Great Patriotic Pole, a coalition led by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
This process, according to the opposition, is the most “painless” way of achieving regime change, and it would allow Maduro to “save face” because technically, he would simply be finishing his mandate instead of being removed from office.
Should the proposal fail, two other options for an early termination of the mandate remain including a recall referendum and the practically impossible resignation by Maduro, something that he qualified as having “absolutely no remote possibility of any sort” of happening.
Speaking in front of the presidential palace, Maduro was defiant: “The opposition gained control of the National Assembly in December, but now they’re threatening to come over here and take what is not theirs!”
“The people of Venezuela must not allow the oligarchy to truncate our path of the Bolivarian Revolution, and we are preparing for this action so that we will not allow, one way or the other and by any means necessary, for them to take what is ours,” Maduro concluded.
His statement was ironic given that he gave the speech in memory of Chávez’s failed February 4, 1992 coup attempt against democratically-elected Carlos Andrés Pérez, who, like the democratically-elected Maduro, dealt with a severely struggling economy (albeit with policies from the other end of the political spectrum) amid freefalling oil prices. Pérez would eventually be impeached in 1993 for grave corruption while Chávez was in prison for his role in the coup attempt.