Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party has packed the country's supreme court with 13 new justices, days before it loses control of the national legislature for the first time in 17 years.
The appointment of the new magistrates — voted by the outgoing legislature on Wednesday — was slammed by opposition leaders who also claimed it was unlawful because it was done with a simple majority.
"The National Assembly closed its shameful term with an action that goes with its indignity," opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup tweeted on Thursday.
"This will be a short flight, like a chicken's. Write that down," Ramos Allup had tweeted the day before, suggesting that the opposition will seek to reverse the appointments next year.
Venezuela's opposition parties are looking forward to wielding a two-thirds majority in the new National Assembly to be inaugurated in January thanks to the landslide victory of their coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, in elections earlier this month.
That triumph dealt a major blow to the administration of President Nicolás Maduro — the handpicked successor of the late Hugo Chávez and guardian of the Chavismo movement he started.
President Maduro insists the opposition plans to roll back social programs and privatize state agencies. He has backed the creation of a parallel "communal" assembly to counteract the opposition's win.
During the debate prior to the vote on the new supreme court justices, National Assembly president and ruling party stalwart Diosdado Cabello predicted a year full of political tension.
"Confrontation is inevitable. There are two models, the capitalist model that you want to restore and the socialist one that we will do our best to defend and move forward," Cabello told the opposition bench. "Enjoy your majority."
The new supreme court appointees will join the court that consists of 32 justices across six chambers, who can authorize criminal proceedings against the president, vice president, ministers and lawmakers. They are also able to veto laws passed by the National Assembly.
As well as the 13 justices, the National Assembly named 21 substitutes.
Opposition politicians said a group of 34 members of the court, including justices and substitutes, were pressured to resign or take early retirement this year. That, they said, was done to allow the Socialist Party to replace them before it loses control of Congress in January. The Socialist Party denied that.
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