Some 19.5 million Venezuelans voted in the Dec. 6 National Assembly elections and winners from this election assume office on Jan. 5, 2016 and have five-year terms. Venezuela’s National Elections Council (CNE) has confirmed that the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has won 99 of the 167 assembly seats while the government’s traditionally pro-government Chavista party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), won 46 seats. The CNE still needs to confirm 22 remaining seats but local news reports estimate that MUD could win a total of 113 seats while PSUV finishes with 54. The degree to which MUD can challenge President Nicola Maduro and redirect the Venezuelan government depends on how much of a majority it holds in the National Assembly.
The Venezuelan constitution differentiates three types of majority in the National Assembly. A simple majority consists of 85 members and can govern basic legislative actions. This includes approving a state of emergency, approving amnesty for political prisoners, authorizing the president to be tried by the Supreme Court and agreeing on initiatives to reform the constitution. A qualified majority is reached with 101 members, approximately 60 percent of the National Assembly. With a qualified majority, the National Assembly can motion to censure and approve the removal of ministers. This number is also needed to allow Maduro to essentially rule by decree on a wide variety of measures. The ultimate majority threshold is two-thirds of the assembly, 112 legislatures. With this majority, the National Assembly can designate members of the CNE, change Supreme Court judges found guilty of egregious acts, change pre-existing laws, put international agreements and proposed legal projects up for public referendum and reform the constitution.
Current results suggest a qualified majority is an almost certainty in Venezuela and a two-thirds majority within the realm of possibility. Maduro has already recognized the MUD victory, heralded the electoral system in Venezuela and said the results show a triumph of the Venezuelan constitution and of democracy. Assuming MUD can maintain its coalition cohesion once in power in the National Assembly, the opposition will have the power to keep Maduro in check and start reforming the country’s policies. However, maintaining a coalition while attempting to negotiate with (or override) a president amidst an economy in ruins is no easy task. As mentioned in our 2016 forecast, Venezuela will still experience moments of political gridlock in 2016.