Venezuela opposition taps Henry Ramos to lead National Assembly

Henry Ramos Allup (C), deputy of Venezuela's coalition of opposition parties (MUD), walks after a news conference in Caracas December 29, 2015. REUTERS/Marco Bello

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's opposition coalition on Sunday chose Henry Ramos to lead the country's National Assembly, which convenes Tuesday for its first session with an opposition majority in more than 16 years.

Ramos, 72, is secretary general of the Democratic Action party, one that is seen by critics as representing the old guard of Venezuelan politics that Hugo Chavez successfully rallied against when elected to the presidency in 1998.

Yet, supporters say Ramos is a skilled and by far the most experienced politician in the ring.

"We represent an alternative... We are not going to be the anti-establishment, rather an autonomous legislative power," said Ramos, a lawyer, who won the election with 62 of the 111 votes cast.

It took place a month after the opposition trounced the ruling Socialist Party in legislative elections, giving the opposition 112 seats - a two-thirds majority - in the 167-seat National Assembly.

However, the new Congress is likely to get off to a conflictive start on Tuesday when it formally chooses the body's president.

Four newly elected lawmakers were blocked from taking office last week, three of them from the opposition, after a legal challenge by the Socialist Party.

The country's Supreme Court also agreed to hear challenges against the election of another six opposition deputies.

Yet, the opposition remains defiant.

"The people chose 112 and 112 will be sworn in," Jesus Torrealba, secretary of the opposition coalition, said at a press conference on Saturday.

Torrealba's biggest headache since taking over as secretary of the opposition coalition in late 2014 has been holding various factions together.

The infighting came to the fore in recent weeks with major opposition leaders publicly criticizing each other.

Julio Borges was Ramos' main contender on Sunday. The 46-year-old leads the relatively young Justice First party, which won the largest number of seats among the opposition in Congress.

However, Ramos united smaller opposition factions that feared dominance by Justice First, analysts said.

The opposition called for supporters to join lawmakers outside the National Assembly on Tuesday morning.

President Nicolas Maduro has said he would veto one of the opposition's major planks, the release of imprisoned politicians, and told the opposition in December to "suck on your change."

(Reporting by Girish Gupta and Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Dan Grebler)