Venezuela’s Congress Moves to Challenge President

  • Extraordinary session was interrupted by government supporters
  • Opposition trying to rally support after recall vote suspended

Venezuela’s opposition-led Congress, consistently undermined by the executive and judicial branches since taking control about 10 months ago, upped the ante on Sunday.

During a four-hour extraordinary session in Caracas, which was interrupted for about 30 minutes after government supporters breached security and threatened lawmakers on the National Assembly floor, Congress approved a series of actions in response to last week’s decision suspending a referendum process to recall President Nicolas Maduro.

Supporters of Maduro breach the National Assembly on Oct. 23.

Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

“The government has overseen a coup; they have chosen to steal the votes of all Venezuelans,” opposition lawmaker Julio Borges said. “Facing the abandonment of the constitution, we as Congress, declare ourselves in rebellion.”

With Maduro touring Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries to discuss oil prices, Congress said it would try to oust him, a group of Supreme Court justices that were approved without their permission and some electoral-body board members. Even with near-record low approval ratings and a deepening economic crisis, Maduro has managed to tighten his grasp on power through his control over the National Electoral Council, Supreme Court, intelligence agencies and the military.

The actions approved Sunday include presenting a case at the International Criminal Court against Supreme Court justices and electoral body members, trying to replace key figures in those institutions and asking the military to not follow orders from the Maduro government -- as well as setting a debate for Tuesday on the constitutionality of his presidency.

Supporters of Maduro demonstrate outside the National Assembly.

Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

While the opposition has tried all year to organize a recall referendum, the electoral authorities have dragged their feet on approving phases of the process until suspending it altogether last week. If Maduro were removed via referendum before Jan. 10, there would be fresh elections. If he’s removed after that date, his vice president would finish his term which ends in 2019.

The opposition is calling Venezuelans to march in protest on Wednesday.

(Corrects name of court in fifth paragraph.)
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