In an unprecedented move, the National Assembly declared the office of President of the Republic to have been abandoned today and called for general elections to take place within 30 days to replace Maduro.
The move is largely symbolic and has virtually no chance to take effect given the power that the Maduro regime yields over the country’s institutions, specifically the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) and the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE).
The declaration of abandonment was passed with 106 votes, all of which came from the Mesa de la Unidad (MUD) deputies present at today’s parliamentary session. The PSUV deputies vacated parliament prior to the start of the vote.
In summary, the National Assembly argued that by continually and systematically violating the constitution, Maduro has in fact stopped being the president of Venezuela, given the fact that the office of President of Venezuela is held accountable to and must work within the constitution. In other words, the argument is that by abandoning the constitution, Maduro has in fact abandoned his position.
The seven-page declaration includes the following statements:
FIRST. We declare that Nicolas Maduro Moros, as President of the Republic, has undertaken actions and omissions that leave his duties completely outside the margins of the designs and functions granted to the office of President of the Republic by the constitution, by virtue of a grave rupture in the constitutional and democratic order, the violation of human rights, and the devastation of the economic and social foundations of the Nation, as well as the attacks against the integrity of the Republic that have taken place.
SECOND. As a consequence, and in accordance with articles 232 and 233 of the Constitution, we declare the Nicolas Maduro Moros has abandoned his position by abandoning the principle of constitutional supremacy established in article 7 of that document, the principle of rule of law and justice established in article 2 of the Constitution, as well as the inherent functions of the position of President of the Republic, specially the obligation to obey and hold others to constitutional order and laws, so established in section 1 of article 236 of the Constitution.
The National Assembly also cited the disastrous state of the country’s socio-economic and political spheres being the direct result of Maduro’s incompetence as a reason for his abandonment of his position.
National Assembly president Julio Borges summarized the legislature’s position on the abandonment, saying:
Maduro has abandoned the Constitution and the duties that he must exercise. With this decision, the National Assembly has opened the doors for elections to take place at all levels.
National Assembly deputy Henry Ramos Allup was less optimistic than Borges, saying shortly before the vote:
We are going to vote for this political measure, but we know that there won’t be elections.
Speaking on behalf of PSUV deputies, deputy Hector Rodriguez called the declaration “a circus” and said that it was a “ridiculous” display. Rodriguez said:
We lament these ridiculous acts, these illegal acts.
The full document declaring the abandonment of position can be found here, in Spanish.
Declaration of Abandonment Unprecedented, Unclear
Aside from having never occurred since this latest constitution came into effect in 1999, the declaration of abandonment of the position of President of the Republic is not made entirely clear by the document.
The phrase “abandonment of position” appears once in the Constitution of the Bolviarian Republic of Venezuela. Article 233 partially reads (emphasis mine):
Article 233: The President of the Republic* shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.
By implication, Article 233 suggests that the National Assembly can in fact declare the abandonment of the position of President of the Republic. However, the constitution does not set out guidelines for when that declaration might be made, or how.
TSJ Pre-Empts Declaration, Rules Against It Last Night
Sensing the possibility that the National Assembly would declare Maduro’s position to have been abandoned today, the TSJ, Venezuela’s top court, issued a statement yesterday stating that the national legislature did not have the power to make such a declaration.
Without providing too much detail, the TSJ asserted its power to declare acts by the National Assembly to be unconstitutional, and referenced an statement from November 15 2016 in which it said:
[The TSJ orders the National Assembly] to abstain from continuing the process of declaring the President of the Republic “politically responsible” [for the crisis], and to stop from conducting any kind of act that finds itself a the margins of [the legislature’s] constitutional powers.
Cabello: Maduro Has Not, Will Not Abandon Position
PSUV vice-president and National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello reacted to the news out of congress today by stressing that Maduro has not and will not abandon his position as president.
We reject this situation (…) there is no way for them [the National assembly] can affect the possibility that president Nicolas Maduro has abandoned his post. That doesn’t exist. It is neither constitutionally nor politically possible to do that.
Cabello continued by saying:
President Maduro has not and will not resign. He has not abandoned his post yet and he never will. We don not recognize a National Assembly that is in contempt, and we will never recognize it.
Cabello also threatened opposition deputies with “a great trial”, saying:
There will be a trial, but it will be against the right-wing deputies who dared to do this. With this decision, they’ve committed a violation that opens the doors to a great trial.
NA Formally Removes Amazonas Deputies from Positions
After accepting resignation letters from three opposition deputies from Amazonas state on November 15, the National Assembly formally voted today to accept the resignations and remove the deputies from their positions. The deputies were Nirma Guarulla, Romel Guazamana and Julio Ygarza.
The deputies won in their respective districts during the December 6 parliamentary elections, and were declared winners by the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) by the end of the day. However, on December 29, the TSJ accepted challenges from PSUV representatives claiming that fraud had taken place in several districts, including the three in Amazonas.
The TSJ banned the three deputies from joining the National Assembly while it worked in the case. The nation’s top court never again issued a statement on the case, leaving many to speculate that the TSJ had simply removed the three from the positions in order to strip the opposition of a 2/3 supermajority at congress.
The National Assembly incorporated the three deputies in defiance of the TSJ ruling in late July, which resulted in the TSJ ruling the National Assembly to be in contempt in early September. The same ruling declared every act by the National Assembly to be null.
Maduro Orders New Bills on the Street On Jan. 16
During a televised speech in which he focused primarily on economy matters, Maduro ordered a new set of currency to be in full circulation on January 16. Originally, the new bills and coins were scheduled to begin circulating on December 15, but a series of delays in their arrival in the country and subsequent transport to the country’s banking institutions have left the introduction of the currency up in the air.
I’ve asked Minister [of the Economy] Ramon Lobo and the Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) [so that] starting on January 16 the new bills will start circulation that have arrived late due to sabotage.
Maduro also spoke about the planned obsolescence of the Bs. 100 bill, saying:
Four weeks ago I had to take a bold, necessary, strong and inescapable decision [to remove all Bs. 100 from circulation within 72 hours. We managed to collect 80% of the Bs. 100 bills in the country.
On December 11, Maduro made the surprise announcement that the most commonly-circulated bill in the country would become worthless on December 15. The announcement set off a wave of panic and chaos that shook the country, as desperate Venezuelans lined up for hours to deposit their bills into banks because they would no longer be accepted.
Before Maduro unexpectedly extended the lifetime of the Bs. 100 bill until January 2, a series of riots and looting events shook several regions of the country, including Bolivar state, as Venezuelans who had suddenly found themselves without cash faced the prospect of not having a means to buy food.