Venezuela congress allows remote voting to thwart government pressure on opposition

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-run congress on Tuesday approved a measure allowing lawmakers to vote on legislation without being present, a response to a government crackdown that has left dozens of legislators in hiding or in exile.

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President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which has for years ignored congressional decisions, has launched criminal probes of opposition lawmakers in what critics call an intimidation campaign to silence adversaries.

The reform to voting procedures increases the number of legislators who would be eligible to participate in the Jan 5 election for congressional leadership. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who in January cited articles of the constitution to assume an interim presidency, is seeking re-election.

Lawmakers voted to approve “the use of technologies for virtual participation” of members of parliament who face state persecution. Previously, the legislature could not approve measures without the physical presence of 50 percent of the legislators or their substitutes.

Opposition leaders say the ruling Socialist Party is seeking to prevent Guaido’s re-election by pressuring legislators not to be present for the session.

“We will not sell out, they will not break us,” said lawmaker Carlos Valero. Others said during the session that they were offered briefcases of cash to skip the Jan 5 leadership vote.

The information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Maduro dismisses Guaido as a puppet of the United States who is conspiring to overthrow him.

Francisco Torrealba, a Socialist Party legislator, said in an interview before the decision that voting “has to be done with the presence of the deputies, not online.”

The pro-government Constituent Assembly, a parallel legislature created by Maduro to undermine congress, on Monday approved a trial of four opposition legislators accused by the government of conspiracy.

Reporting by Mayela Armas, additional reporting by Corina Pons and Vivian Sequera; Editing by David Gregorio