Expectations that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro might emerge more cooperative and chastised after his ruling party was pummeled in Sunday’s legislative race didn’t last long.
On Tuesday night, a combative Maduro vowed to fight the legislature at every step, saying he would not allow the release of “political prisoners” like Leopoldo López and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, and wouldn’t allow the legislature to dismantle the country’s international cooperation plans that have been key to keeping regional support.
He also asked for the resignation of his entire cabinet as he said the Bolivarian Revolution needed to assume a war-footing against the new legislature, which will take power Jan. 5.
Freeing those political prisoners was one of the campaign promises of the opposition coalition known as the MUD, which won the legislature for the first time in more than 15 years. Late Tuesday the National Electoral Council (CNE) confirmed that the coalition had won 112 of 167 seats in congress, a two-thirds supermajority that gives it broad leeway in passing laws and hemming in the power of the executive.
Speaking from the hilltop tomb of late President Hugo Chávez, Maduro said he would reject any legislative attempts at amnesty for the high-profile prisoners that the government has called “murderers” and criminals, for their role in protests last year that left more than 40 dead.
“They can send me a thousand laws, but the killers of the people have to be judged and have to pay for their crimes,” Maduro said.
The president also balked at opposition plans to restrict Venezuela’s petrol-diplomacy programs, which sell cheap crude to regional allies at favorable terms.
“They want to destroy Petrocaribe to affect the new independence,” Maduro said, adding that he would defend the program and other regional initiatives, like the ALBA and UNASUR bloc of nations, which have helped bolster Venezuela’s international status.
Meanwhile, the legislature, which is currently controlled by the ruling party, is likely to go into overdrive in its waning days. National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello on Tuesday said the body would be appointing 12 new Supreme Court justices before his term ends.
And Maduro said he would push a “labor stabilization” law that would keep employers from being able to fire workers through 2018.
“I want to continue the Grand Missions,” Maduro said, referring to free housing, education and health programs that have been an administration hallmark. “But will we be able to continue them with the National Assembly in the hands of the right?”
In a note to clients, Bank of America said the opposition had emerged from the elections with “substantial bargaining power, as it has at its disposal several mechanisms that it can use to replace other branches of government.”
“The heads of the judiciary, electoral and accountability branches would then have to choose whether to negotiate with the legislative — in which case they would have a chance of avoiding dissolution of their branch — or maintaining their support of the Maduro government, in which case they would run the risk of being replaced,” the bank added.
In mid-2106, congress will also have the option of launching a recall referendum against Maduro.
Addressing that threat, the president said he trusted the people to defend democracy.
“If they take the recall road, we’ll go to that fight and the people will decide,” he said. “We revolutionaries are prepared for any battle that’s coming.”
Maduro had won praise for quickly accepting Sunday’s defeat, and there were some who thought it might even open the door to a new level of cooperation between the bitter foes.
On Wednesday, analysts seemed to think those hopes were dashed.
“There will be no cooperation with the new National Assembly,” Jesús Seguías, a political analyst wrote after Maduro’s speech. “What we’ll see is total confrontation. . . . It’s a train wreck.”