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Climbdown in Caracas: On Venezuela's top court reversing a legislature order (Hindu)

Venezuela’s top court reverses a shocking order to take over the legislature’s functions

The decision by Venezuela’s highest court on Saturday to reverse its earlier move of nullifying the elected legislature, the Congress, brings some respite from the relentless attack on democratic institutions under President Nicolás Maduro. And the fact that last week the judges initiated the process to strip the legislature of all law-making powers, indicating contempt for the will of the people in pursuit of Mr. Maduro’s interests, also puts in sharp focus the severe erosion of the judiciary’s independence. The attempted takeover marked the nadir in the months-long confrontation between the legislature and the courts, which are packed with loyalists of Mr. Maduro. A notable voice of dissent that seems to have forced the Supreme Court to rescind the decision came from the attorney general, who characterised the initial move as a “rupture in the constitutional order”. The information minister may have described the subsequent reversal on Saturday as the court’s way of correcting a mistake, but the battle between the government and opposition is far from settled. The opposition had won a two-thirds majority in the national assembly in the 2015 elections. Such a large majority was always going to prove contentious, as it empowers Congress to amend the constitution and to appoint judges. Soon after its inauguration, the new legislature had challenged the economic emergency that Mr. Maduro enforced in January 2016, giving him overall control on expenditure.

Meanwhile, the severe shortages of rations of essential commodities have led to a grave humanitarian crisis. The social and political unrest that accompanied the plummeting value of the Bolivar, resulting from triple-digit inflation, was met with more repression and the arbitrary detention of leading opposition figures. The most notorious such incident was the torture and killing of innocent youth at the military’s hands in the rural province of Barlovento last October, which drew strong condemnation even from government investigators. However, the opposition seems to have exhausted all manoeuvres to exploit political and constitutional avenues to challenge the government. Its effort to mobilise popular support for a recall referendum against the President, with a petition endorsed by millions, was rejected by the electoral commission in October. It is obvious that the crisis engulfing the country can hardly be addressed by an autocrat who refuses to be held to account. But the fact that the court was forced to reverse the decision to nullify the legislature is a signal of hope that there are some limits to the Maduro regime’s flagrant excesses. International pressure is another check on the regime. Recently, Venezuela was declared ineligible to exercise its vote in the UN General Assembly for failing to pay dues to the tune of millions of dollars. This kind of embarrassment is something that Mr. Maduro can do without at this juncture.

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