A new session of Venezuela’s National Assembly began official business yesterday in Caracas with a host of new faces. As a result of the 2010 parliamentary elections in September, President Hugo Chávez’ Partido Socalista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) party saw its count of Assembly seats reduced from 139 to 98 while members of the opposition—which had overwhelmingly boycotted the 2005 election—occupied the remaining 67 seats. The agenda was mostly ceremonial as Fernando Soto Rojas, a PSUV representative, was elected the new Assembly president. The first and second vice presidents of the Assembly elected yesterday were also from PSUV. Rojas comes from the state of Falcón and President Chávez nominated him for the post.
But the tone of the session was hardly amicable. After the swearing-in of all new representatives, President Chávez said that his majority party would “crush” the voices from the opposition, adding “I hope that the opposition members respect the Constitution, the laws, and the institutions.” PSUV representative Iris Varela dismissed any possibility of negotiating with the opposition. Competing demonstrations were held in the streets outside the Palacio Federal Legislativo between chavistas and pro-opposition supporters.
The new body takes office in the wake of last month’s Ley Habilitante (Enabling Law), passed by the outgoing Assembly and which awarded Chávez amplified decree powers. It was criticized yesterday by opposition spokesman Alfredo Marquina as a power grab, given the opposition having won over half the popular vote but 40 percent of the seats due to redistricting. This morning U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela referred to the Enabling Law as “antidemocratic” and a violation of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter.