Less than a month after being sworn in, Venezuela's new opposition-controlled National Assembly is digging in its heels for a fight with President Nicolas Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). On Jan. 22, a parliamentary committee overruled a decree that would have granted the president broad powers over national spending and economic planning for 60 days. Maduro has dubbed the decision unconstitutional, and the Venezuelan supreme court has declared his decree to be legally sound. At the very least, Maduro will try to shift the blame for Venezuela's deteriorating economy onto the opposition. The opposition, for its part, will likely use whatever legal measures it can to erode the Maduro administration's clout.
The PSUV has three main courses of action it could take.
First, it could simply ignore the opposition, using the judicial branch to nullify any controversial legislation the National Assembly passes.
The PSUV's second option is to try to further dismantle the opposition's legislative majority by citing inconsistencies during the December 2015 elections. This would also require the support of the supreme court.
The ruling party's final option is to expand its control over the Venezuelan economy and public finances, which would increase the risk of more heavy-handed attempts by the government to centralize economic power.
The opposition also has several approaches it could take in the coming weeks.
First, it could start the process of impeaching Maduro, something opposition figure Henry Ramos Allup has threatened to do since the new National Assembly was sworn in Jan. 5
Its second option would be to pass a constitutional amendment that would limit Maduro's tenure, eventually forcing a new presidential election.
Third, the opposition could try to use a new constitutional amendment to override the judicial branch's organic laws. But the supreme court could substantially delay such a move, since it would first have to undergo legal revision and be adhered to by the executive branch.
The final step the National Assembly could take would be to write a new constitution. But this is the least plausible scenario. Replacing the constitution would spur resistance from the PSUV and carry the risk of political upheaval on an unprecedented scale. Therefore, even if some of the opposition's factions find this option tempting, it is unlikely that the military — the main arbiter of power in Venezuela — would back it up.
Either way - things are getting worse in a hurry...