Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela suspended opposition legislators stand down

Members of Venezuela's Socialist Party Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Members of the governing Socialist Party celebrated the opposition-held assembly's decision

Three opposition politicians in Venezuela have agreed to give up their seats in the National Assembly while the electoral authorities investigate allegations of voting irregularities.

On Monday the Supreme Court declared that all decisions taken by the assembly would be null and void until they stood down.

The three legislators say they agreed to step aside to break the deadlock.

Without the seats, the opposition loses a critical two-thirds majority.

The so-called "super-majority" would allow the opposition to put a more effective challenge to the government of Nicolas Maduro.

They would be able to change the constitution and appoint new Supreme Court judges.

'Victory for the people'

In a letter read in the assembly, the three legislators said they "completely reject" the Supreme court ruling.

But their decision to give up their seats would "help free parliament from the institutional ambush" prepared by the government and its supporters, they added.

The decision by the three legislators - Julio Haron Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana - was approved by the opposition-held assembly.

Members of the pro-government bloc celebrated the move as "a victory for the people".

"We applaud this move, which puts the National Assembly back within the framework of legality," said pro-government legislator Hector Rodriguez.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Speaker Henry Ramos Allup said the new assembly would bring real change for Venezuelans

Speaker Henry Ramos Allup said the opposition had made the best move under the circumstances.

"Sometimes truces are needed because you have to sacrifice a part to save the whole," said Mr Ramos Allup.

"There are many constitutional options to get [President] Maduro to go" he added.

The newly elected National Assembly had until then defied the Supreme Court ruling, swearing in the suspended legislators last week.

Four lawmakers were barred by the Supreme Court - three from the opposition and one allied with the government - after the Socialist Party alleged irregularities during the 6 December vote.

The opposition claimed the the ruling was designed to strip it of the crucial two-thirds majority.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Nicolas Maduro's six-year term ends in April 2019

Without the three legislators, the opposition has 109 seats and the government 54. With the banned legislators, the opposition gets the 112 seats it needs to reach the so-called "super-majority".

The four suspended politicians are all from the rural and sparsely populated south-western state of Amazonas.

Venezuela's Supreme Court has almost always ruled in favour of the government during the last 17 years of socialist government under President Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

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