By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas
Caracas, April 1st 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) has partially annulled two controversial rulings released this past Wednesday, including one that granted the judiciary temporary powers to assume the role of the legislature and another calling into question lawmakers’ parliamentary immunity.
The measure was taken following an urgent meeting of the National Security Council, convened this past Friday night by President Nicolas Maduro.
According to changes made to both decisions on the Supreme Court’s website, the judiciary announced that the article referring to parliamentary immunity in ruling number 157 had been “struck down”.
It also clarified that “in relation to point 4.4 of the ruling [no. 156], with respect to the Constitutional Tribunal guaranteeing that parliamentary responsibilities will be exercised directly by this body or by another at its disposition in defense of the rule of law; said content is struck down”.
On Friday night, Venezuela’s National Security Council met to resolve the institutional crisis that emerged this past Friday between the country’s legislature, judiciary and the attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who represents an integral part of the citizen branch of government.
The controversy is rooted in the approval of two rulings released by the TSJ this past Wednesday in relation to the status of the National Assembly, which the judiciary currently declares to be in contempt of court. The legislative body has refused to remove three legislators currently under investigation for electoral fraud according to TSJ stipulations, and in violation of a Supreme Court order.
Wednesday’s TSJ decisions granted temporary rights to the judiciary to assume the role of the National Assembly until the situation is resolved, as well as indicated that National Assembly legislators were not eligible for parliamentary immunity in view of the violation.
The rulings sparked heated debate over their legality under the Constitution. While Attorney General Ortega described the move as a “rupture of the Constitutional order”, the rulings were defended as legal by former Public Prosecutors and the Venezuelan Ombudsman.
Six decisions were put forward by the National Security Council in the early hours of Saturday morning in a bid to end the impasse.
Although the Council’s resolutions ratify the Supreme Court as “the competent body for the control of Constitutionality in relation to any National Public Power which collides with the Magna Carta, as well as for the resolution of conflicts between powers”, the body nonetheless exhorted the TSJ to review the two controversial rulings in the interests of “institutional stability and the balance of powers”.
It also called on the opposition, grouped under the coalition the Roundtable of Democratic Unity, to agree to participate in national dialogue with the government facilitated by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Vatican “without delay”.
In addition, the Council expressed its “categorical rejection of any intervention” against the country’s independence, territorial integrity and self-determination.
“The matters of Venezuelans must be resolved exclusively by us,” it stated.
According to statements made by President Maduro, council members “conversed with Attorney General Luisa Ortega” while President of the Supreme Court Maikel Moreno, President of the court’s Constitutional Tribunal Juan José Mendoza, Vice-President Tareck El Aissami, Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, Comptroller General of the Republic Manuel Galindo, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, and Planning Minister Ricardo Menendez, all participated in the meeting.
The de-facto President of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, was also invited but did not attend, said Maduro.
The opposition leader later confirmed that he had refused to participate in the meeting in protest at the country’s “constitutional rupture”.
“We are not going to attend any meeting… We cannot, in any way, accept invitations in which those who made a coup d’etat attempt to repair a crisis which they created,” he said.
The politician also indicated that the opposition would not participate in dialogue with the government, nor take part in efforts to address the country’s current institutional crisis unless its demands for immediate elections are met.
“The only thing that we expect in Venezuela is that actions are taken so that we can have elections in Venezuela, liberty for our political prisoners, respect for institutions, especially the National Assembly, the opening of a humanitarian channel, so that the country can expect medicines and food, so that Venezuela can choose, not just a change in government, but also a different system of liberty, progress, union and democracy,’ said Borges in a Periscope transmission on Twitter.
National dialogue between the government and the opposition was suspended late last year, after opposition delegates called time on the talks when the government refused to meet its demands for immediate national elections and the release of approximately 100 “political prisoners”.
Regional elections due to be held last year were postponed until 2017 by the National Electoral Council, although dates for the elections have still not been set by the electoral body. National elections are not due until 2018.
The opposition argued that national elections should be brought forward due to the country’s economic crisis.
Yesterday, several opposition legislators also submitted an official lawsuit to the Public Prosecution against the seven judges sitting on the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Tribunal.
The Supreme Court is expected to release an alternative ruling shortly in relation to its deadlock with the National Assembly. Its website was unavailable this Saturday morning.