Venezuelan opposition leaders have written a letter to the UN General Secretary asking the world community to prevent a “judicial coup” by the ruling socialist party.
Opposition candidates won a huge victory in Venezuela earlier this month, taking a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly after winning 112 of 167 seats. That majority gives the opposition the power to effectively oppose the long-ruling socialist party, including appointing government ministers and even changing the country’s constitution.
However, the socialists may not be ready to give up power. This week, the ruling party filed appeals of nine different opposition victories, alleging fraud. Venezuela’s socialist president Nicolás Maduro alleged, “criminals were buying votes.” Maduro frequently blames Venezuela’s severe economic problems on a plot by the U.S. to undermine the revolutionary government.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which is a coalition of opposition groups, believes the allegations are an attempt to retroactively steal the election. In his letter to the UN, MUD executive secretary Jesus Torrealba wrote, “The country, the region and the world are facing a judicial coup attempt against the Venezuelan people’s decision as expressed at the ballot box.” He added, “The ruling party’s irresponsible behavior is pushing the entire country to the brink of disaster, which would have grave consequences for the entire region.”
If the nation’s supreme court were to overturn even one of those victories, the opposition would lose its two-thirds majority and the power it grants them to make changes to the established government and the constitution.
There is reason to suspect the decision by the court will not be an unbiased one. Last week, the outgoing National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, who has been a close supporter of Maduro and is often seen as the 2nd most powerful man in the ruling socialist party, held a marathon special session in which he appointed 13 new judges and substituted 21 more. The stacking of the court with socialist judges holding 12-year appointments seems likely to result in a showdown between the court and the incoming National Assembly.
President Nicolás Maduro has held power since 2013 when his predecessor Hugo Chavez died. During Maduro’s rule, Venezuela has been wracked by soaring crime rates (currently 1st or 2nd highest in the world) and skyrocketing inflation (currently the highest in the world). The result has been chronic shortages of basic staples like food, toilet paper, and medicine, all of which has been compounded by the drop in world oil prices.
The shortages and the high crime led to anti-government protests last year, but the government initiated a brutal crackdown in which several dozen people were killed. The ruling socialists also jailed the leader of the opposition on trumped up charges.