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In the last few weeks, Juan Guaido, the head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, has been increasingly referring to himself as the legitimate President, as opposed to Nicholas Maduro who held dubious elections in 2018. Many Western countries are now recognizing Guaido as such. How is Guaido doing this without another election or a coup?

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Guaido's proclamation is based in several articles of the Venezuelan Constitution and the opposition dismissing the results of the 2018 elections:

The article 233 states that in case of "absence" of the President of Venezuela, new elections must be started and in the interim the Head of the Venezuelan Assembly would act as provisional president.

Last January 9 the previous mandate of Maduro did expire and the new one (based on the results of the 2018 election) began.

Since the opposition dismisses the results of the 2018 elections, they state that the President is absent1 and so Guaido can be proclamed as temporary President.

Another point of contention is that Maduro was sworn in at the Constitutional Tribunal while the Constitution (art 331) says that it should have been sworn in at the National Assembly, but Maduro claims that the National Assembly has been found to be in contempt by the Constitutional Tribunal and so he must be sworn in at the Constitutional Tribunal.

Additionally, there are references to articles 333 and 350 that claim for individual action in the case of attacks against the Constitution (so the Maduro controlled Constitutional Tribunal would not be the sole deciding power).

If we go back in time, we find issues about how the Constitutional Tribunal members were elected and about changes to the Constitution, that were backed by Maduro supporters but protested by the opposition.

In short, each side has its own "legal reality" and in one of them Maduro is President of Venezuela, and in the other he is not and Guaido has just filled in.

How is Guaido doing this without another election or a coup?

If you side with Maduro it is a coup (although an institutional one), if you side with Guaido it is just following the Constitution and the coup (if any) was effected by Maduro at the elections and before.

Here there is an interview with Guaido commenting on the Constitution articles (in Spanish)

Since all of my links are in Spanish, an article in English.


1 Most likely on the reason of el abandono del cargo, declarado como tal por la Asamblea Nacional (giving up the office, as stated by the National Assembly), but I have found no references specifying the claim.

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    Is this whole affair basically a constitutional crisis, then? Jan 29 '19 at 17:57
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    See reddit.com/r/vzla/comments/ajsbxo for a very detailed desciription of the history leading up to this, from the point of view of those aligned with the National Assembly. Jan 29 '19 at 18:13
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    The reason for the National Assembly claiming the president is absent is because the Supreme Court in exile ruled that the 2018 election was void. The National Assembly views the in-country Court as illegitimate, because it has judges illegally appointed by the lame duck members of the previous Assembly, and whose appointment the Assembly has annulled. Therefore in the view of the National Assembly the presidential term ended without there being any properly elected president, so per the constitution, the president of the National Assembly is interim President of the whole country Jan 29 '19 at 18:29
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    @dan-klasson: Well, It has a wikipedia page. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…). Note that the "Supreme Court" (as English media tends to call it), has a name that literally translates to "Supreme Tribunal of Justice", hence that page's name. If you want a non-wikipedia source, see for example (in spanish): "diariolasamericas.com/america-latina/…". Jan 31 '19 at 21:00
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    The National Constituent Assembly (the "constitutional tribunal") was initiated by the president, not by referendum (although that is one of the legal methods of initiating it per article 348). Most polls indicated that 65-90% percent Venezuelans were opposed to calling up the NCA. It did have public elections, with an official turnout of 41% of the population, which is highly disputed, even by the makers of the voting machines. All independent analysis suggests that closer to 20% of the population actually voted. Nevertheless, it would appear that the calling of the NCA was constitutional. Jan 31 '19 at 22:04
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The EU Parliament just voted in favor of this motion:

"Recognises Mr Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, as stated in Article 233 thereof, and expresses its full support for his roadmap;"

(emphasis mine)

This is what's in article 233:

Article 233: The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.

What happened is clearly not applicable here.

Common sense should dictate no country in the world would have a constitution that would allow the opposition to appoint themselves president after disputing the election.

One would also think the EU, and the rest of the world, would be keen to send observers to at least try to ensure a fair election. Rather than outright refusing to accept the outcome afterwards. Especially given that this is not the first disputed election in Venezuela.

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