Venezuela's Supreme Court took over legislative powers on Thursday following its ruling that the National Assembly was in contempt of court for swearing in three lawmakers who had been suspended by the court over alleged electoral fraud.
"As long as the National Assembly's contempt of court and invalidity persist, parliamentary powers shall be exercised directly by (the Supreme Court's) constitutional chamber or by the body it stipulates to safeguard the rule of law," the court said in its ruling.
According to the court ruling, the actions of Assembly lawmakers were in violation of the constitutional order for failing to heed a prior ruling from the court.
There is an ongoing conflict between socialist President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition which is seeking to end his presidency.
The Democratic Unity umbrella opposition group responded to the court's ruling: "This unconstitutional sentence that we reject ... cements another step in the dismantling of Venezuela's democracy," the group's statement read. "This government is dying, and that's why it's turning to these desperate measures."
Ever since the main opposition coalition gained its majority in the assembly following elections in December 2015, the Supreme Court has overturned every law passed by the assembly. The coalition parties have accused the court of being made up of Maduro loyalists, rather than neutral judges.
Lawmaker immunity limited
The latest ruling came the same week that the court said it would begin a process of control that would define the limits of immunity for Assembly deputies. "The Constitutional Chamber declared the nullity of the act approved by the National Assembly on March 21, 2017, known as the Agreement on the Reactivation of the Enforcement Process Inter-American Conference of the OAS."
The opposition had been using its majority in the Assembly to push for the release of a number of prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has been in jail for three years, and to limit the influence of Maduro's administration.
Maduro accused opposition lawmakers of treason for asking the Organization of American States (OAS) to consider suspending Venezuela for violating democratic norms. In Venezuela, treason can be punished with a 30-year prison term.
OAS backs off
The Washington-based OAS held an acrimonious meeting on Tuesday to debate a 75-page report issued two weeks previously. The regional group's Secretary-General Luis Almagro had characterized Venezuela as a country where the rule of law no longer exists and called on member nations to suspend the oil-rich South American nation from OAS membership unless elections were held.
However, despite heated debate on Tuesday, the OAS drew back from its proposal to suspend Venezuela's membership. The three-hour meeting ended with a declaration on behalf of 20 of the 35 OAS member states pledging to take concrete steps toward a diplomatic solution. The statement offered few details on what that would involve.