The National Assembly for the 2016-2021 legislative term was sworn in today in a historic proceeding that saw the country’s legislature fall under the power of the opposition for the first time in the Bolivarian era.
The event appeared to be on the verge of descending into chaos on at least two occassions, when both the PSUV and MUD benches cleared as deputies from both sides rushed to the front of the chamber to argue. PSUV and MUD supporters in the observation decks of the National Assembly chanted and yelled slogans and obscenities throughout much of the proceedings.
Part of the swearing-in ceremony requires that the credentials of every deputy in the chamber be checked. This involves that each deputy produce two pieces of paper: one confirming that they were elected, and another confirming that their election has been ratified. Last week, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia issued a ruling which halted the ratification process for 3 MUD deputies and 1 PSUV deputy, meaning that only 109 out of 112 MUD deputies and 54 out of 55 PSUV deputies were sworn in today.
Despite stressing repeatedly that he wanted all deputies to consider him “one out of the 167 [total deputies]”, Henry Ramos Allup took over the role of National Assembly President from Diosdado Cabello.
We want peace, but not the peace of the grave, and not the peace of our children living abroad, looking for a life that an unjust system and a worse government that pushed them out…
Today’s proceedings were strictly ceremonial and had only the goal of swearing in the new deputies and establishing the National Assembly’s executive committee. Allup called for the legislature to meet again tomorrow, when it will begin legislating.
PSUV Deputies Leave Chamber in Protest
Just minutes after National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup took his seat before the legislature and began moderating the session, the PSUV deputies left the chamber in protest over a perceived procedural slight that turned heated at times.
The Assembly’s first order of business was to appoint a secretary and sub-secretary for the body. A MUD deputy nominated Roberto Barrero and Jose Luis Cartaya, respectively. PSUV Deputy Pedro Carreño approached Allup and asked him for permission to speak so that he could nominate PSUV candidates. Allup gave Carreño five minutes to announce his party’s nominations, all of which the deputy used to launch vicious criticism at the MUD.
When Carreño’s five minutes were up, Allup called for a vote via show of hands on confirming Barrero and Cartaya for their respective rolls. As it appeared that all 109 MUD deputies voted in favour, the vote passed quickly.
At that time, PSUV deputy Hector Rodriguez approached Allup and asked if the PSUV could propose candidates for the positions, to which Allup replied, “No; the vote already happened”. Barrero and Cartaya were sworn in immediately amid shouts from the PSUV deputies on the floor and as PSUV supporters yelled insults and obscenities from the stands.
Deputy Julio Borges then rose to the front of the chamber to speak, a move which upset the PSUV deputies since they claimed that granting a deputy the right to speak before the chamber was not allowed during the day of the swearing in ceremony. Borges began to speak as PSUV deputies argued with Allup behind him.
Once it became clear that Allup was going to let Borges finish speaking, the PSUV deputies left the chamber and did not return.
Later on, Allup spoke to the chamber on the PSUV’s departure, saying:
I’m going to risk making a presumption that they didn’t want to hear what we had to say, but they’re going to have to get used to it because for the next 5 years there will be freedom of opinion here.
Below, a video showing the moment the PSUV deputies began to leave the National Assembly floor as Julio Borges speaks:
Allup Promises Procedural Change, Maduro’s Ouster Within 6 Months
In an impassioned speech before a chamber devoid of PSUV deputies, Allup called on his fellow deputies to stay true to the responsibilities that they’ve been given by the Venezuelan people, and provided an outline for some of the issues the National Assembly will tackle, the first being “rescuing the autonomy of parliament”.
On the overall way business has been conducted in the National Assembly over the past 16 years, Allup said that the new National Assembly “will not approve useless Habilitante laws”, referring to the Ley Habilitante that allows the President to rule by decree on certain topics. Allup also decried that fact that in previous years, opposition deputies would sometimes not receive printed copies of laws to be debated, if at all, and said that “these ambushes are over (…) we are going to legislate, not delegate”.
On the way laws are passed in the country, Allup made reference to the fact that the MUD is more than happy to work inside the regulation framework the PSUV has created int he National Assembly. Allup said:
The laws passed here will be well thought out, with Venezuela in mind instead of opportunism. We will work within a set of rules that we have not modified even once, nor will we modify.
Allup also announced officially that the National Assembly would find a constitutional way to remove Maduro from power “within 6 months”. Although Allup did not elaborate, it is likely that he was referring to the convocation of a recall referendum.
Media Welcomed Back
The change at the National Assembly was felt even before the first deputies walked onto the floor in the mid-morning. There were plenty of media reporters and television cameras in the chamber, a marked departure from the last five years at the National Assembly. Starting in 2011, the PSUV blocked all media access to the National Assembly save for the state-run ANTV network.
Venezuela’s major private media outlets had camera and reporters waiting outside the National Assembly doors starting early in the morning. El Nacional reports that as the morning progressed, the journalists were not sure if they would be officially invited to set up their gear inside the building by the security staff, or if they could just simply walk in.
As PSUV deputies began to arrive, they brought with them a contingent of civilian supporters who began to push into the building en masse. As they did, one supporter was heard saying, “Let the people come in!”. El Nacional report that at that moment, some of the journalists in the crowd began to say, “If the people can go in, so can we”.
Below, some of the images captured by the the first independent journalists to enter the National Assembly in conduct of their duties in the past five years, courtesy of AFP’s Juan Barreto via La Patilla:
National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup:
Diosdado Cabello and Cilia Flores stand among PSUV deputies on the National Assembly floor:
A scuffle forms around Julio Borges as he tries to speak to the chamber:
An opposition deputy holds a sign that was seen throughout the morning: “Somos 112” [We are 112]:
Gov’t To Come Under Miscroscope
Allup stressed that no government agency or branch was safe from scrutiny:
[The National Assembly] will bring the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, the Attorney General’s office, and the Comptroller’s office [under control]. Those holding public office will have to be held accountable. Those [branches/agencies] cannot be going around freely, and they will not become a counterweight to this National Assembly which was elected by voters.
Maduro to Speak Before National Assembly in Coming Days
Maduro and his ministers are set to speak before the National Assembly in the new few days so that they can provide their yearly addresses to the legislature. Allup called on the MUD deputies to treat them all with respect and dignity, saying:
We will receive him [Maduro] respectfully, not because we worship him but because that is our job. We have a solid respect for civility. We will listen to his message (…) we can [then] debate about it and give our opinions about it.
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