President Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) has taken control of the country’s National Assembly. The party won a landslide 256 of the Assembly’s 277 seats, having previously lost control of the institution in 2015.
This election has not been without controversy, with almost all opposition parties choosing to boycott the vote. Opposition leaders say participating would give an undemocratic election legitimacy. The vote had very low turnout, with just over 30% of Venezuela’s 20 million eligible voters attending the polls. The Maduro loyal supreme court also removed opposition party leaders ahead of the vote, calling the move part of a “necessary restructuring process”.
Venezuela’s political crisis began following an oil crash in 2014, after which historic inflation rates led to an economic crisis, in which much of the country could not afford housing, food, or healthcare. As a result, since 2015 over 5 million Venezuelans have left the country. President Maduro’s approval ratings have remained low, with as much as 80% of the country wanting him removed from office, yet he has retained control of all major political institutions aside from the National Assembly. In 2017 he attempted to remove the assembly’s power, a move which was overturned following widespread protest. Mr Maduro then called a vote to elect a new “National Constituent Assembly” which would have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.
Since 2019, the country has had two recognised Presidents. In January 2019, Juan Guaidó, the previous leader of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president and labelled Nicolás Maduro a “usurper”. Mr Guaidó is recognised as the legitimate President of Venezuela by over 50 countries, including the UK. He has said following the inauguration of PSUV’s new assembly that the existing opposition assembly will continue to meet, saying they cannot hand over power to an illegitimate government. They have voted to extend their legislative power “until democracy is restored”, though this decision was obviously not recognised by the supreme court.
However, Mr Guaidó’s assembly does retain significant international support. Speaking about the new pro-Maduro National Assembly, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “We consider this group to be illegitimate and will not recognize it nor its pronouncements. President Guaidó and the National Assembly are the only democratic representatives of the Venezuelan people as recognized by the international community, and they should be freed from Maduro’s harassment, threats, persecution, and other abuses.” The EU and UK also do not recognise the new National Assembly.