Hungary’s Parliament Gives Orban Absolute Power

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Today in Budapest the National Assembly, which is Hungary’s parliamentary body, approved the government’s request for the power to rule by decree for an indefinite period of time. The new legislation gives extraordinary powers to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, effectively placing him in sole command of Hungary with absolutely no oversight. The move was made to give the government all of the necessary tools to effectively combat COVID-19. Many nations across Europe and other parts of the world have allowed their governments to assume emergency powers in the pandemic, but none have taken a step as drastic as Hungary has. The National Assembly has essentially handed Orban the keys to the kingdom without any assurances he will give them back when the pandemic comes to an end.

The new legislation extends the present state of emergency now in effect. It lays the foundation for jail terms of up to five years on individuals, and organizations hindering measures to curb the spread of the virus or spreading false information that could upset people or hinder the fight against the virus. Human Rights groups, and opposition parties inside Hungary fear Orban will use this to neutralize domestic journalists and media outlets opposing the Orban government.

The legislation also gives Orban the power to bypass parliament when making decisions, eliminating the body’s ability to act as a check on possible abuses of power Orban. The Constitutional Court will retain the power to review government actions, however, the court is filled with justices loyal to Orban, so its ability to provide objective oversight is questionable.

Even though Orban and his allies have promised the emergency measures are temporary and will pose no threat to democracy in Hungary, his opponents inside of the country, and across Europe aren’t so sure. The European Union has not responded to events in Hungary today, and given the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be some time before that happens.

On a final note, what has taken place in Hungary is a textbook example of what was discussed in the previous blog post. Actions taken during the pandemic will certainly produce far reaching consequences once things return to normal, whether leaders, and citizens realize it or not.

Venezuela Update: 23 January, 2019 6:00 PM Eastern Time

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As expected, today has turned out to be an eventful day in Venezuela and it is not over yet. The revitalized opposition to Nicolas Maduro took to the streets of Caracas, and other major cities in the nation today demanding Maduro step down and cede power to National Assembly president Juan Guaidó, who is now being recognized by many nation-states as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The United States has loudly proclaimed its recognition of Guaidó, and support for the opposition. A number of nations across the globe are following the US lead and openly recognizing Guaidó.

The Maduro government responded to the US move by officially breaking off diplomatic relations with Washington. US diplomats in Venezuela have 72 hours to leave the country. It’s very likely that the US will respond to this move with additional economic sanctions in the short term. Beyond that, a number of options remain on the table depending on the course events take in the coming days.

Today’s protests in Venezuela drew tens of thousands of citizens at least. Accurate numbers are not yet available. National Guard soldiers responded with tear gas and there are reports of many clashes between soldiers and protesters, yet no reports of any deaths today. Last night, however, four protesters were killed in demonstrations. Tonight will likely bring on more protests, and tomorrow the opposition has called for large scale protests around the country.

The military remains the wild card. Maduro is urging the Venezuelan armed forces to remain united and disciplined. So long as the military remains tethered to the government, Maduro remains in power. If the moment comes when high-ranking officers, or military units start to break away from the regime, Maduro’s government could unravel swiftly.

I will provide additional updates periodically, as events continue to unfold in Venezuela.

Opposition Energized in Venezuela

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The opposition in Venezuela has finally emerged from the political wilderness. The National Assembly’s challenging the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s government has rejuvenated opposition groups across Venezuela. These groups that are in direct opposition to Maduro are rallying around Juan Guaido, the president of the National Assembly, and the man who has assumed the powers and duties of the Acting President of Venezuela, giving the country two leaders claiming to be the rightful leader. Guaido is receiving recognition, and support from many nations, and international organizations in the Western Hemisphere. The United States is backing him, and the National Assembly-led opposition to Maduro. Brazil and Colombia are two of the Latin American countries that have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president.

Following violent protests across the nation last night, Venezuelan opponents to Maduro are preparing for a major march today. Even though the opposition is energized, and has the momentum, a Caracas Spring is not guaranteed. We’ve been down this road before with a series of violent, mass protests breaking out around Venezuela for days at a time. In the end nothing changed for the better. Maduro remained in power, and the opposition was fractured. This time around, the hope is that outcome is decidedly different.

The wild card is the Venezuelan military. Its support of Maduro has been steadfast and if it remains so, Maduro will stay in power. If Guaido’s call for the armed forces to disavow Maduroa is answered by even a handful of units, the situation in Venezuela could change immeasurably. At best, the military turns on Maduro completely, while the worst-case scenario would be a bona fide civil war breaking out.

Wednesday could very well end up being a critical day for Venezuela.

Monday 17 July, 2017 Update: The Venezuelan Powder Keg

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The opposition movement in Venezuela has been energized by the results of Sunday’s unofficial referendum and are hoping it marks a turning point in its struggle against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Over 7.2 million Venezuelans cast votes, with the overwhelming majority were against Maduro’s plan to push forward with his plan to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. On 30 July voters will elect delegates for a constitutional assembly. The assembly will be given the power to rewrite laws and many observers view it as nothing less than a power grab on the part of Maduro.

Venezuela continues to descend deeper into economic, and political chaos. Maduro is desperately clinging to the plan for a constitutional rewrite as his cure-all. Three months of unrest, and daily clashes between protesters, and security forces have taken a toll. A new constitution that neuters the power of his opponents in the legislature will pave the way for him to contend with the opponents on the streets once and for all. In spite of the growing turmoil, anti-government feeling, and the results of the referendum yesterday, Maduro’s position is relatively stable for the time being. There are no imminent threats to his rule. Despite the efforts of anti-Maduro lawmakers and their supporters, the current president appears likely to remain in power at least through the end of the summer.

A primary reason for this has been the opposition’s disorganization and lack of unity. The opposition is comprised of people from every facet of Venezuelan society. Unfortunately, there is no fabric to mesh together. No individual leader, or leadership council to coordinate the various groups. In the absence of a cohesion, the opposition’s efforts have been restricted mainly to street protests. In their own right, the protests are powerful, but without a political element to guide and lead them, the throngs of people taking to the streets are little more than an unruly mob. Maduro’s bands of thugs have intimidated the political opposition to a large degree. Pro-government thugs regularly assault opposition lawmakers, and on one occasion Maduro even sent a group of them to the National Assembly where they entered and beat a number of lawmakers bloody.

The political chaos might end up being overshadowed by even more economic despair soon enough. Venezuela’s foreign reserves are now down to less than $10 billion. In short, the country is on the verge of going broke. If that happens, all bets are off as to what happens next.

Thursday 30 March, 2017 Update: Venezuela’s Supreme Court Dissolves National Assembly

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Democracy in Venezuela has been on life support for an extended period of time. The ruling and actions by its Supreme Court Wednesday night may have pulled the plug. The court ruled that the nation’s elected legislators are ‘operating outside the law’by defying previous court ruling. As a result, the legislature is to be dissolved. The Supreme Court will assume legislative duties for the time being. The judicial body is firmly in the camp of embattled President Nicolas Maduro and its latest actions are nothing short of a coup that all but assures the nation will be under One-Man rule.

Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly has been regarded by many as the last hope for democracy in that country. It was beginning to push back against Maduro and his United Socialist Party’s already tight grip on power. With the loss of the legislature, however, the opposition has been removed from the equation. The government is clearly operating outside of the constitution but now there is no system of checks and balances to repair the imbalance. The three branches of government will all be controlled by the United Socialist Party.

The nation is facing a nearly unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the result of the continuing economic meltdown Venezuela is enduring. Food, basic goods, and medicine are running dangerously short. Staggering inflation is making currency essentially useless and the bulk of Venezuela’s monetary reserves will go towards debt repayment.

Regional reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Peru reacted to the ruling by recalling its ambassador to Caracas and is considering the full suspension of diplomatic relations. Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Chile all denounced Maduro’s government. The Organization of American States (OAS) also denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling. OAS Secretary General Luis Amalgro accused the Venezuelan government of attempting “a self-inflicted coup d’etat” The United States joined in by releasing a statement condemning the court’s “decision to usurp the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly. … We consider it a serious setback for democracy.”

How the opposition, and Venezuelan citizens respond will reveal much about the future of Venezuela. As the heartbeat of democracy there fades it becomes painfully clear that nothing short of a powerful, perhaps violent, jolt will keep it alive. Venezuelans need to act decisively and do it now. Otherwise, the nation will permanently fall into the dark peril of dictator rule.