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Venezuela’s controversial ‘super-agency’ turns one

Originally created to rewrite the Constitution, the CA has served as an instrument for Maduro to crush all opposition

Venezuela’s controversial Constituent Assembly (CA) marked its first anniversary on Saturday as the embodiment of President Nicolas Maduro’s entrenchment in power despite an economic crisis that has crippled the country’s public services and destroyed its currency.

The assembly’s very creation last year was largely responsible for four months of street protests that left some 125 people dead.

Staging a ‘coup’

Opposition politicians accused Mr. Maduro of staging a “coup” as the assembly, dominated by the President’s Chavista allies, supplanted the Opposition-controlled Parliament, leaving it impotent.

It was the culmination of Mr. Maduro’s belligerent fight to retain the power he was at risk of losing as recession paralysed the country.

“The Constituent Assembly was the beginning of the crushing of democratic suffrage,” said political analyst Luis Salamanca.

The Opposition’s super-majority victory in 2015 parliamentary elections — the first time in 16 years Chavistas had lost control of Parliament — had left Mr. Maduro vulnerable to a potential challenge but his allies acted quickly before the new legislators could take their seats, packing the Supreme Court with regime loyalists.

In early 2016, the Supreme Court prevented four Opposition lawmakers from taking their National Assembly seats, subsequently eliminating the super-majority.

Partisan judiciary

Bit by bit, the Supreme Court chipped away at the National Assembly’s powers, siding with the President every time it clashed with him.

Mr. Maduro wasn’t done there, though, and last year announced the creation of the Constituent Assembly to replace the legislative body of which he’d lost control.

Opposition lawmakers boycotted elections for the new assembly, decrying the “illegality” of the body’s creation and saying it would establish a “communist dictatorship”. The Supreme Court subsequently dissolved the National Assembly and its replacement body declared itself a super-agency with authority above all other government branches.

This year it hastily brought forward to May presidential elections slated for December, with the Opposition again boycotting and Mr. Maduro winning a landslide and new six-year term.

‘Above all powers’

Originally created to rewrite the Constitution and expected to function for two years, the Constituent Assembly’s president and close Maduro ally Diosdado Cabello announced earlier this week it could extend its term for up to four years.

It’s “an organisation that’s above all powers,” said analyst Mariano De Alba.

The National Assembly continues to operate but all its decisions are annulled by the same judicial authorities that dissolved it.

The Constituent Assembly has been implacable, calling municipal elections last year for Mayors and Governors, dealing more blows to the disillusioned Opposition.

The International Monetary Fund projected last week that inflation would hit a staggering one million percent this year.

Quite apart from reinforcing Mr. Maduro’s iron-fisted grip on power, the Constituent Assembly gives him “an additional bargain chip” against his opponents, said Mr. De Alba.

“It’s impossible to envisage a political resolution to the crisis without that body being dismantled.”

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