Venezuela's opposition-held Congress extends term after disputed vote

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's opposition leader, Juan Guaido, attends a session of Venezuela's National Assembly at a public park in Caracas, Venezuela, December 15, 2020. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-held National Assembly on Saturday approved a statute extending its term into 2021, after a disputed Dec. 6 election in which allies of President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling socialist party won 91% of the seats in Congress.

The South American country’s four main opposition parties boycotted the parliamentary vote, arguing conditions for a free and fair election were not met, and most Western democracies, including the United States, have said they do not recognize the election results.

Saturday’s vote paves the way for opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by dozens of countries as the crisis-stricken OPEC nation’s legitimate leader, to retain his role as the parliament’s speaker. Guaido’s nearly two-year push to oust Maduro, who he labels a dictator, has been unsuccessful.

“Despite threats from the dictatorship and intimidation from the regime, the parliament will continue in this extraordinary period,” Guaido said on Saturday.

The statute provides for a small group of legislators to carry out the National Assembly’s functions. The change comes as dozens of legislators have fled the country, or have expressed unwillingness to continue serving in Congress next year, due to what they describe as threats from the government.

Members of one of the four major parties that make up Guaido’s coalition, Democratic Action, abstained from the vote because they did not support delegating the functions of parliament to a small group.

Maduro, who calls Guaido a U.S.-puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, has said the election was transparent and points out that several opposition candidates participated. Guaido says those candidates are shadow allies of the government.

The socialist-controlled Congress is scheduled to be sworn in on Jan 5, 2021.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Luc Cohen in Caracas; Editing by Matthew Lewis