Venezuela’s political crisis deepened this weekend as opposition leader Juan Guaido and rival lawmaker Luis Parra are both claiming to be the country’s National Assembly leader following two separate, chaotic votes on Sunday.
The first vote in which Parra emerged victorious was marred by chaos, as Gaudio and other opposition MPs were not present in the chamber and physically clashed with parliamentary security outside while the vote took place.
Chaos Outside Parliament
Guaido said that he and other legislators were prevented from entering the building before the vote. In a viral video, the opposition leader at one point attempted to scale the fence into the premises but was pushed back by security personnel with riot shields.
However, a video published by Telesur, which is owned in large part by the Venezuelan government, shows that Guaido had in fact been granted access to the National Assembly building earlier in the day.
But he refused to enter without several other opposition MPs who had been stripped of their parliamentary immunity after being accused of crimes.
With Juan Guaido unable to enter, Venezuela's congress swore in a new leader.
It's being called a "parliamentary coup." pic.twitter.com/hGOz8WmAaD
— DW News (@dwnews) January 6, 2020
Ultimately, some thirty to forty opposition members from the 167-seat body were left outside the chamber while other MPs voted inside, Phillip Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst with the Crisis Group, told The Globe Post.
“It’s not entirely clear whether that was because they were outright refused or because the opposition wanted them all to go in together and the security wouldn’t allow that,” Gunson said.
According to Gunson, Guaido and other opposition members insisted on entering the chamber in unison because they feared security forces from President Nicolas Maduro‘s government would begin blocking some opposition MPs from entering the chamber once the assembly had reached an 84-member quorum.
The government “needed to get to a quorum of 84, but obviously didn’t want all of the opposition MPs to enter the chamber because then they were a majority,” Gunson said.
“The key thing was to get Guaido on the inside and enough people for the opposition inside so that it was legitimate, but without allowing them all in.”
It’s not clear whether or not the government had any such plans, but opposition members were reportedly blocked from entering the building as a group.
Guaido emerged as an international figure in January 2019 when he declared himself interim president, rejecting Maduro’s legitimacy after the president won re-election in a disputed 2018 election that was boycotted by most of the opposition.
The opposition leader was swiftly recognized as the “legitimate” president by the United States and 57 other countries. His efforts to take the presidential palace have been supported aggressively by Washington, which has long sought to oust Maduro as part of a broader campaign against socialist governments in the Western Hemisphere.
Guaido’s claim to the presidency was based on his status as National Assembly leader and a disputed interpretation of the country’s constitution.
His ouster from that position would be a major blow to opposition efforts to remove Maduro if the vote to elect Parra stands.
With Guaido and other opposition members outside, a chaotic vote was held in which Parra was elected by a show of hands.
Sources on the final vote count vary, and an official vote tally was apparently never taken.
Parra told reporters 140 lawmakers were present in the session and that his candidacy was approved with 81 votes, while Regime deputy Pedro Carreno told AFP that the vote took place with 150 deputies present and that Parra received 84 votes.
Diputados chavistas eligieron a Luis Parra como presidente de la Asamblea Nacional sin que el presidente (E) @jguaido, estuviera presente #TVVenezuela por: https://t.co/3LuYaa1oMD pic.twitter.com/Gi4aPc9Onz
— TVVenezuela Noticias (@TVVnoticias) January 5, 2020
Second Vice President Jose Noriega said 31 opposition deputies joined Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela to vote for Parra, though Gunson put the figure at 18.
If all 167 members had ultimately voted, Gunson said the contest would have been “quite close” but that Guaido likely would have won with about 85 votes.
Though opposition lawmakers control 112 seats, the bloc has splintered over the last year with Parra and his allies breaking from Guaido after Parra was accused of being a part of a corruption scheme linked to Maduro’s regime.
A contingent of more radical members of the opposition had also broken with Guaido over strategic disagreements.
A Second Vote
But these more radical members ultimately supported Guaido in an alternate vote that was organized by the opposition and held in the offices of a newspaper later Sunday evening in which Guaido received 100 votes.
These votes included some from several lawmakers that have been forced into exile or have taken shelter in foreign diplomatic missions over fears of being arrested.
Gunson said that several “alternate” or “sit-in” members also cast ballots in the second vote, though it’s unclear precisely how many.
“Those people would be voting for Guaido, but the principle – the actual legislator – was voting for the government candidate. So two people were voting from the same seat,” he said.
Guaido is adamant that he remains the legitimate National Assembly leader and that the election of Parra was a “parliamentary coup” designed to consolidate Maduro’s power.
The opposition has also insisted that the vote won by Parra was inherently illegitimate because Guaido was not present to preside over it in his capacity as speaker.
The U.S. congratulated Guaido on being re-elected as speaker and condemned “the failed efforts of the former Maduro regime to negate the will of the democratically elected National Assembly.”
The right-wing governments of Brazil and Colombia condemned the vote that Parra won as fraudulent.
The new left-wing government in Argentina also rejected Parra’s victory.
The national assembly was the only governmental institution not controlled by Maduro’s party.
If Parra’s victory stands, Gunson said it will be a “major blow” to the opposition that will diminish its leverage in any future negotiations with the government.
Reporting from AFP contributed to this article.