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Venezuelan Opposition Takes Control of Assembly

A government supporter carries a painting of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, to protest the swearing-in of opposition lawmakers. (AP Photo/Alejandro Cegarra)
Venezuelan Opposition Takes Control of Assembly
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Venezuela’s opposition party took control of the National Assembly Tuesday.

It was the first time in 16 years.

The Democratic Unity won a two-thirds vote in December’s election, but Socialist President Nicholas Maduro remains in office.

During Tuesday’s opening session, members of both the Democratic Unity and Socialist Party loyal to President Maduro shouted at each other.

The two sides chanted slogans at one another. They also said the other was corrupt and disloyal, Reuters reported.

Socialist Party members walked out.

Maduro was elected in 2013 to replace the late Socialist President Hugo Chavez. Chavez led major changes in Venezuela’s economy with more government control over major industries. Maduro has continued the Chavez policies.

On Tuesday, veteran opposition legislator Harry Ramos was elected to lead the Assembly.

“What did we offer in our campaign? To recover the autonomy of the legislative branch,” Ramos said in his opening speech, according to Reuters. “This has been the loudspeaker of the presidential palace, the echo chamber of the executive branch.”

Ramos said there will be big changes.

When a socialist deputy complained that Ramos violated legislative rules, Ramos responded: “Take it easy congressman, things have changed here.”

There were other signs of a power switch in the assembly. A portrait of the late President Chavez that hung in the assembly chamber was removed. And reporters were able to walk freely on the floor of the assembly for the first time in years.

It remains a big question how much the new assembly can fix the nation’s economy. The socialist government led by Maduro controls agencies that decide major economic policies.

Leaders of the new majority promise to deal with shortages of food, drugs and other things people need daily. But they have not offered specifics.

First on the agenda is legislation to free opposition activists jailed for protesting the Maduro government, Reuters reported.

The Democratic Unity coalition also wants to grant property titles for citizens who received homes from the government. Party members said it will ease residents’ concerns they could lose their homes at any time.

In the December elections, the opposition coalition won 112 seats. That represents a two-thirds majority – enough to put legislation blocked by Maduro to a referendum. It is also enough to draft a new constitution.

But the Venezuela Supreme Court in December blocked three opposition members from taking their seats, according to news reports. The court ruled that election fraud charges must be investigated. The Democratic Unity Coalition said the December ruling amounted to a “judicial coup.”

For now, the coalition lacks a two-thirds majority.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Bruce Alpert adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and other news sources. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

chant – v. to say a word or phrase) many times in a rhythmic way usually loudly and with other people

slogann. a word or phrase that is easy to remember and is used to attract attention

disloyaladj. failing to support or be true to someone or something

veteranadj. someone who has a lot of experience in a particular activity

loudspeakern. a device that is used to make sound such as a person’s voice louder

echoadj. the same position as someone else

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