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News: Law and Justice

Venezuela’s Supreme Court to Temporarily Assume Role of National Assembly

 
Caracas, March 30th 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) released a ruling Wednesday, announcing that it will temporarily assume the functions of the National Assembly until the body ceases to be “in contempt of court”. 
 
The Venezuelan legislative branch has been in violation of a Supreme Court order since July 28th 2016, when opposition lawmakers swore-in three deputies from Amazonas state in breach of a December 2015 TSJ ruling barring them from taking office. All three delegates are currently under investigation into allegations of vote-buying during their election, alongside a pro-government legislator from the same state who was never sworn in. 
 
Wednesday’s decision came in response to a request for legal interpretation from a subsidiary of state oil company PDVSA, regarding whether Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro could change the conditions of “mixed” public and private enterprises without the approval of the legislative branch. The case was submitted after the president approved a string of economic measures via executive decree this past Monday, including reforms to some joint public-private ventures.
 
Venezuelan law states that presidential initiatives involving mixed-public-private enterprises must be authorised first by the legislative branch. However the TSJ ruled Wednesday the legislature was "incapacitated to carry out its constitutional obligations for political control over state management” due to being in contempt. The judicial branch also ruled that there was “no impediment” to the economic measures going ahead. 
 
Appealing to article 336.7 of the Constitution, which allows the TSJ to take “corrective measures” in the case of an “unconstitutional parliamentary default”, the Supreme Court decision also indicated that it would assume the legislature’s constitutional responsibilities until the three offending legislators are removed. 
 
“This tribunal decides that the National Assembly, acting in a de facto manner, cannot modify the proposed conditions or attempt to establish other conditions (in relation to the mixed enterprises),” reads the statement.
 
“While a situation of contempt (of court) and the invalidity of the actions of the National Assembly persist, this Constitutional tribunal will guarantee that parliamentary functions are exercised directly by this tribunal or by another body at its disposition, in order to maintain the rule of law,” continued the ruling. 
 
Support for OAS Democracy Clause
 
The stand-off between the Venezuelan branches of government has drawn increasing attention in the international arena, and Wednesday’s ruling comes just a day after an extraordinary session was held at the Organisation of American States (OAS) to address the issue of Venezuela’s democracy. 
 
The session was promoted by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who submitted a 75 page report earlier in March calling on member states to suspend Venezuela from the organisation due to a series of alleged political rights violations.
 
Venezuelan opposition legislators publicly rallied to Almagro’s proposal, issuing a statement on March 21st entitled “the Agreement to Reactivate the Application of the Democratic Charter” in support of Venezuela’s suspension. High profile opposition spokespeople also appeared alongside Almagro at an OAS press conference. 
 
Nonetheless, the National Assembly’s controversial statement was also nullified by the TSJ in a separate decision this past Tuesday.
 
Responding to an official complaint filed by pro-government legislator, Hector Rodriguez, the TSJ emphasised once again that “the leadership of the National Assembly, alongside legislators grouped under the denominated Unity {opposition} Bloc, have stubbornly decided to maintain their state of contempt of court” through their refusal to disincorporate the three barred legislators. 
 
In addition to declaring the statement invalid, the TSJ also ordered the initiation of a “control procedure” to ensure that the constitution and the rights of the nation are upheld. 
 
The ruling also stated that there were grounds to believe that opposition lawmakers had committed treason, as outlined in the Venezuelan penal code, and reminded legislators that their parliamentary immunity was not in place due to the National Assembly’s contempt of court. 
 
Article 132 of the Venezuelan Penal Code prohibits Venezuelans from “soliciting outside intervention in Venezuela’s national politics”. 
 
Opposition Reaction
 
Opposition spokespeople have reacted angrily to the rulings, and accused the government of arbitrarily “dissolving the National Assembly”.
 
In a public act outside the legislature, National Assembly President Julio Borges for the Justice First party tore up a copy of the TSJ decision and said that the legislature would refuse to recognise the Supreme Court. He called the TSJ’s rulings “trash” and said they amounted to a state coup. 
 
Meanwhile a scuffle broke out when members of the National Guard blocked an attempt by three opposition legislators and their supporters to spontaneously march on the Supreme Court in protest. 
 
In the international arena, the Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski government of Peru immediately withdrew its ambassador from Caracas in reaction to the ruling, while the governments of Colombia, Argentina and Mexico released statements “expressing concern”. 
 
Opposition Courts Controversy in National Assembly 
 
Venezuela’s opposition won a parliamentary majority in December 2015 for the first time since 1999.
 
Although opposition lawmakers originally respected the TSJ’s decision to block the three legislators under investigation, they eventually flouted the order by swearing in the deputies in July 2016.
 
The three legislators then offered their written resignation to the NA presidency in November last year as part of a bargaining manouevre in talks with the national government. Nonetheless one of the legislators in question, Julio Ygarza, later revealed that the deputies reneged on their resignations just weeks later and once again returned to parliament. Ygarza also confirmed that the Amazonas legislators had asked the opposition to remove the issue of their resignation from talks with the government. 
 
Since a National Assembly vote agreeing to once again remove the legislators in January this year, the presidency of the legislature has refused to officially unseat the three lawmakers under conditions established by the Supreme Court. 

These stipulations include officially unseating the three legislators in a ceremony presided over by the National Assembly’s 2016 presidency, which is considered legitimate by the TSJ, and the subsequent re-election of the legislature presidency for 2017.

Prior to July 2016, the legislature managed to pass four pieces of legislation into law. However three of the laws, including a highly controversial amnesty law and a project to privatize social housing, were subsequently thrown out by the Supreme Court for violating the constitution. The opposition-promoted Law for Food and Medicine Bonuses for Retirees and Pensioners was upheld as constitutional by the TSJ and subsequently passed into law.

In January, opposition legislators also provoked backlash from the Supreme Court when they passed a resolution calling for the president to be removed, claiming that he had “abandoned his post”. The TSJ hit back accusing the National Assembly of overstepping its powers under the Constitution. 

Published on Mar 31st 2017 at 9.24am