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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

Venezuela's assembly rejects legitimacy of Maduro second term

MPs call on the military to support efforts to 'restore democracy'

MPs vote for a new president of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas. Bloomberg
MPs vote for a new president of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas. Bloomberg

Venezuela’s National Assembly declared Nicolas Maduro’s presidency illegitimate on Saturday and called on the military to help “restore democracy”.

The US, which has sanctioned Venezuelan officials and organisations, called the parliament “the only legitimate and last remaining democratically elected institution” in the country.

The assembly is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition but it has been stripped of power and authority.

“We reaffirm the illegitimacy of Nicolas Maduro,” its new president Juan Guaido said after being sworn in. “As of January 10, he will be usurping the presidency and consequently this National Assembly is the only legitimate representative of the people.”

Mr Maduro, who has presided over a collapse of Venezuela’s economy, is set to be sworn in on Thursday for a second six-year term after elections that were condemned by the international community.

The May 20 vote was boycotted by most of the opposition.

On Friday, foreign ministers from 12 Latin American countries and Canada announced in Lima that their governments would not recognise Mr Maduro as president if he tried to remain in office, and urged him to turn over power to the National Assembly.

The Maduro government accused the Lima Group of “encouraging a coup d’etat” on instructions from Washington. Mexico, which is a member of the group, withheld its support for the statement.

Mr Guaido said that the military’s chain of command had been “broken or usurped”.

He said he would “generate conditions for a government of transition and to call free elections”.

The US State Department said it welcomed Mr Guaido’s swearing-in, which was attended by the US embassy’s charge d’affaires, James Story.

“The National Assembly should inspire hope in the Venezuelan people for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future, even as the corrupt and authoritarian Maduro regime and its allies seek to deny Venezuelans that right,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said.

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The National Assembly has been largely marginalised by the Constituent Assembly, which was formed by the regime and called the elections at a time when most major opposition figures were in jail or banned from running.

Washington, the EU and the Lima Group countries refused to recognise the results.

“Maduro is a usurper, an invader and should be removed,” said Delsa Solorzano, an opposition deputy.

But she denied that the call for military support was for a coup.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which has consistently sided with Mr Maduro, rendered the National Assembly powerless after the country’s opposition gained the majority in 2016.

“Nothing will come out of the assembly that can have the least impact,” said Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. Mr Hakim said the assembly no longer had authority.

“Our hands are tied,” Ms Solorzano said.

A previous attempt in January 2017 by opposition politicians to declare that Mr Maduro had abandoned his responsibilities went nowhere.

More radical opposition leaders called on the legislature to immediately install a “government of transition” led by the president of the National Assembly.

Failure to do so could deepen divisions within an ­already-fractured opposition.

“If there is something worse than doing nothing, it is doing that which weakens and makes you lose respect,” political analyst Luis Salamanca said.

Mr Maduro is unwilling or incapable of halting the hyperinflation and economic paralysis that have led to mass migration.

He has shrugged off foreign and domestic criticism as well as accusations that he is becoming a dictator.

“They accuse me of being a dictator to justify anything imaginable,” Mr Maduro said, insisting that his re-election was democratic

Updated: January 6, 2019 05:51 PM

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