(Bloomberg) -- Opposition leader Juan Guaido saw his power base crumble Sunday when Venezuelan government and rebel opposition lawmakers ousted him as president of the National Assembly, in what’s been characterized as a parliamentary coup.
As security forces blocked Guaido and other opposition lawmakers entering the building, Luis Parra, a deputy ensnared in a corruption scandal, declared himself the new leader of the chamber by megaphone amid chaotic scenes. Refusing to relinquish control of the legislature, Guaido later called an off-site session of congress -- in the building that houses the newspaper El Nacional -- where his bid for a second term as head of the assembly was met with majority approval, creating what would appear to be, at least for now, dueling legislative bodies.
Still, the day’s chaotic events represent a setback for Guaido and his year-long attempt to oust President Nicolas Maduro with the support of the U.S. and many other Latin American and European nations. Guaido’s popularity has declined recently after a wave of protests and an attempted uprising all failed to topple Maduro’s authoritarian regime, leaving no end in sight to the hyperinflation and economic collapse that have sparked a humanitarian crisis in th country.
While Parra officially opposes Maduro, government lawmakers were among the few allowed into the chamber today to vote him in as Assembly President. Guaido, meanwhile, was trying to scale a fence into the Assembly grounds and being pushed back by shielded national guards.
“This is a farce,” said opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez, “Where is the vote, the list of attendees, or the quorum necessary for a vote like this?”
Michael Kozak, the acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said today’s vote didn’t meet minimum constitutional standards.
“Guaido will continue to have international support; however, his position has been further weakened,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a political analyst in Caracas. “Spaces for democracy have been reduced, I believe there is none left.”
Today’s events are “the equivalent of a coup against the only legitimately elected institution” in Venezuela, said Luis Vicente Leon, head of the polling company Datanalisis. “For an opposition that was already very weak, this is not good news.”
Taking office less than a year after a presidential election widely viewed as fraudulent, Guaido, 36, had invoked a provision in the constitution to justify the creation of an interim government ahead of a new vote. Yet, despite initial street protests in his favor and support from the U.S. and others, Guaido failed to dislodge Maduro. An attempted uprising against the socialist leader ended in failure and Maduro clung to power with the help of the military, as well as financial aid from China and Russia.
Hit by the failure of his strategy to evict Maduro from power, Guaido’s approval rating dropped to a new low reaching 38.9% in November, a 22-point drop from a February peak, according to the latest survey by Caracas pollster Datanalisis.
Last month, the assembly launched an investigation into a report of influence-peddling among nine opposition lawmakers, including Parra.
A committee was established to investigate lawmakers accused of lobbying for a Colombian businessman linked to Alex Saab, a Maduro ally sanctioned by the U.S. and indicted on money-laundering charges in July.
”It is clear now that there is no institution nor possibility to restore or continue a minimum democracy in Venezuela,” Pantoulas said. “The most probable scenario is that we’re going to have a parallel National Assembly.”
(Adds vote held in off-site session of congress to re-elect Guaido in second paragraph.)
--With assistance from Fabiola Zerpa and Nicolle Yapur.
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