CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Allies of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro are disputing the election of eight opposition candidates to the National Assembly, a move the opposition says seeks to undermine its landslide victory in legislative elections.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said it had received motions by losing candidates to overturn the results in several districts. It didn't say on what grounds the challenges were made and nobody from the high court would comment.
But if the court were to overturn the results it would deprive the opposition alliance of the two-thirds "supermajority" it won this month by a single seat and which greatly enhances its power to rein in Maduro, sack Cabinet ministers and even convoke an assembly to rewrite Hugo Chavez's 1999 constitution.
Many in the opposition are denouncing the move by the government-stacked court as a guise to rob the opposition of the full fruits of its victory. They're also calling on the international community to condemn the move and safeguard the Venezuelans' electoral wishes.
"You can't use legal tricks to steal something the voters didn't want to give you," proclaimed Jesus Torrealba, secretary general of the opposition coalition.
"We're not living in a functional democracy," Torrealba said in a press conference with several leaders of the incoming congress. "We're living in a country where you can be surer about the operating hours of a liquor store than the elections tribunal of the Supreme Court."
Maduro and his allies have been defiant in the face of defeat, vowing to deepen the revolution started by Chavez and overrun what they refer to as the "bourgeois parliament."
On Tuesday, the embattled leader briefly and only obliquely referred to the emerging dispute over the election results, saying that if authorities don't he would reveal at an appropriate time evidence of vote-buying and other types of poll fraud by the opposition.
"They're playing dirty," Maduro said during his weekly television program.
Instead, he used special decree powers to extend for three years a longstanding ban on firing workers, a move he said would protect the poor from the "economic war" being waged by his enemies at home and abroad.
"The people have someone who will protect them," Maduro said.
He also convoked for the second half of January a special "national congress" of supporters to define the next steps for the Bolivarian revolution in the face of the recent setback at the ballot boxes.
The announcements follow a frenzy of activity by the lame-duck congress, which in emergency sessions since the Dec. 6 election rammed through 13 Supreme Court appointments and set up in the legislature building a possibly parallel assembly comprised of grassroots activists.
Such moves have angered the opposition, which accuses Maduro of being deaf to the wishes of 65 percent of Venezuelans who voted for candidates rejecting policies blamed for triple-digit inflation, widespread shortages and one of the world's highest murder rates.
With both sides digging in, the threat of a return of the sort of street violence and clashes that paralyzed the oil-rich nation in 2014 is looming.
On Tuesday, a group of pro-government militants called on Twitter for a rally Jan. 5 for a "constitutional taking of the National Assembly by the people."
Torrealba is also urging opposition supporters to show up that day at the congress to peacefully accompany the new lawmakers as they take their seats.