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Venezuela's defiant new Assembly President vows to bring change in 6 months

Congressmen Henry Ramos Allup speaks with media after he was elected as the Venezuela National Assembly's President in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Newly-elected opposition lawmakers voted in Ramos as National Assembly president Sunday. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Congressmen Henry Ramos Allup speaks with media after he was elected as the Venezuela National Assembly's President in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Newly-elected opposition lawmakers voted in Ramos as National Assembly president Sunday. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Minutes after the Venezuelan opposition selected him to preside over the new National Assembly that will be sworn in on Tuesday, Henry Ramos Allup promised to work for change.

“We are committed to finding a peaceful, democratic and electoral solution for a political change in Venezuela in the next six months,” Ramos told FNL after being chosen on Sunday.

The most radical groups from the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of more than 10 political parties that oppose the government, joined forces to choose him as the Assembly’s president. His rival, Julio Borges, head of the Justice First, the political party of governor Henrique Capriles, was leading the moderates.

Ramos, a divisive figure with an acerbic tongue, is the Secretary General of Accion Democratica (Democratic Action), which was Venezuela’s main party before Hugo Chavez took power in 1998. His win sets up a likely showdown with the Chavistas, who have enjoyed a rubber-stamp legislature for over a decade.

On Sunday, Ramos won the support of 62 lawmakers while Borges received 49 votes. One of the 112 representatives from the opposition could not vote.

Ramos said the first bill the Assembly will tackle will be an Amnesty Law to free all political prisoners, including Leopoldo Lopez, a former politician and opposition leader who has been jailed for almost two years on conspiracy charges.

“We don’t know yet in how many days we will approve it,” he said. “We are examining the situation to move in the best possible way.”

Ramos pledged to focus on the country’s sputtering economy and said he would create laws that would shore up the country’s fiscal situation.

“We have a very busy agenda, but we are sure we can deliver,” he said during a press conference Sunday night.

But while his plans are ambitious, they will be difficult to carry out – for a number of reasons.

There is mounting uncertainty over what will happen with legislators whose victories were challenged by the Social Party last week.

The MUD has continued making assurances that it will swear in all its winners despite a recent Supreme Court decision barring four incoming lawmaker from taking office.

“On January 5th, the 112 representatives from the opposition that were chosen by the people will take their seats to fulfill the promises we make during the campaign,” Ramos said. “No institution can pass over the will of the people.”

Three of the four barred legislators are from the opposition. They are critical for MUD in order for the party to take control of a two-thirds majority, which will grant it various powers including reforming the Constitution.

“The opposition has to be careful. If they swear in those three lawmakers all the decisions taken by the Assembly could be ruled as illegal because of their presence,” Luis Salamanca, a lawyer and political analyst told Fox News Latino.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which has not been published because the court has been on Christmas break, leaves many uncertainties about the new Assembly.

Despite its decision barring four lawmakers from taking office, the verdict doesn’t explain if those seats should be left empty or if the current representatives will keep their posts.

If those seats are not counted, Salamanca said the number of lawmakers would drop to 163 and the opposition, with 109 representatives, will obtain the two thirds it needs. But if they are counted or the current legislators are kept, the MUD will fall short of its “supermajority.”

The super-majority is vital for the opposition if it wants a political change in the next six months.

One of the possibilities is changing the constitution to reduce the president’s term from six to four years. That would switch the next presidential election to 2017.

But if the opposition doesn’t have the two-thirds majority, changing the constitution is not possible and it would be limited in its powers.

“This is why,” Salamanca said, “the government is pushing hard to steal one lawmaker and avoid any constitutional change.”

Includes reporting by The Associated Press.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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