The Supreme Court of Venezuela, which is loyal to Nicolás Maduro, the current President, has ousted the leaders of two of the country’s main opposition parties. The decision comes ahead of this year’s anticipated parliamentary elections.
The vote has not yet been scheduled, but this ruling is already fuelling suspicions of election fraud by Mr Maduro. This would not be the first controversial move by the current President, who has overseen the country’s severe economic crisis. Since the crash in oil prices in 2014, Venezuela, which has an oil-dependent economy, has had some of the highest rates of inflation in the world. This made food, healthcare, and housing inaccessible to much of the country’s population, leading to the emigration of over four million Venezuelans since 2015.
In March 2017, the Supreme Court attempted to remove power from the National Assembly, the only part of government controlled by the opposition, through a coalition. This resulted in widespread protests, despite the decision to reverse this move just days later. Later that year, Maduro held a vote to elect a new governing body called the National Constituent Assembly, with the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. Maduro’s socialist party won a majority amid allegations of electoral fraud. At this point approximately 80% of Venezuelans wanted the President removed from office, and these approval ratings have never recovered.
While the Venezuelan government are yet to comment on the removal of the opposition leaders, rulings by the court posted on Facebook said the decision was part of a “necessary restructuring process.” Juan Guaidó, the current speaker of the National Assembly, has argued that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has since declared himself interim president, a claim recognised by more than 50 countries including the UK, the US, and members of the European Union.
One of the new opposition party leaders is José Brito for the Justice First party, who was expelled from the same party in 2019 under accusations of corruption. He denied these claims. The Democratic Action party will be led by Bernabé Gutiérrez, who the party last year said had been found to have been “conspiring with the regime of Nicolás Maduro.” This is followed by the appointing of five new Supreme Court members, including Bernabé Gutiérrez’s brother, all of whom are said to be close to the Maduro government. On national TV last Tuesday, Nicolás Maduro said of the election: “We have a golden opportunity to change the National Assembly.”
In a statement, EU leaders said these changes “reduce the democratic space in the country”. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, accused Mr Maduro of abusing his power to manipulate the constitution.