Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

Venezuela opposition wins supermajority in legislature

Final results show the opposition coalition won 112 out of 167 seats in Venezuela's National Assembly

Venezuela's opposition won a key two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in legislative voting, according to final results released Tuesday, dramatically strengthening its hand in any bid to wrest power from President Nicolas Maduro, who after 17 years of socialist rule, announced an imminent cabinet reshuffle.

More than 48 hours after polls closed, the National Electoral Council published the final tally on its website, confirming that the last two undecided races broke the opposition coalition's way, giving them 112 out of 167 seats in the National Assembly that's sworn in next month. The ruling socialist party and its allies got 55 seats.

The publication ends two days of suspense in which Maduro's opponents claimed a much-larger margin of victory than initially announced by electoral authorities, who were slow to tabulate and release results that gave a full picture of the magnitude of the Democratic Unity opposition alliance's landslide.

The outcome, better than any of the opposition's most-optimistic forecasts, gives the coalition an unprecedented strength in trying to rein in Maduro as well as the votes needed to sack Supreme Court justices and even remove Maduro from office by convoking an assembly to rewrite Hugo Chavez's 1999 constitution.

Maduro blamed the "circumstantial" loss on a right-wing "counterrevolution" trying to sabotage Venezuela's oil-dependent economy and destabilize the government.

During a three-hour television appearance on Tuesday night, he said "The bad guys won" and announced an imminent Cabinet reshuffle, although he gave no details. Current National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello said that the government would appoint 12 new supreme court judges, among other "tasks," before Dec 31. Maduro has said the Socialist Party will hold an "extraordinary congress" and established commissions to "evaluate the situation and emerge with concrete proposals." 

Earlier on Tuesday, the opposition urged Maduro to stop making excuses and instead urgently tackle the worst economic crisis in the OPEC country's recent history. Staples including flour, milk, meat and beans are becoming scarce. Shortages are particularly bad for the poor and outside the capital city, Caracas.

"We urge the government to stop crying and start working," Democratic Unity coalition leader Jesus Torrealba said in a news conference under a sign reading "Thank you Venezuela, we won!"

The government boosted imports somewhat before the election, but overall shipments have tumbled this year due to a recession and low oil prices, with many economists warning the shortages may worsen over Christmas.

"We're just a few weeks away from a very serious problem in terms of food," Torrealba said. Anger over scarce pantry staples helped the opposition win.

The new legislators plan to launch investigations into corruption and pressure the government into publishing economic data such as inflation, which have not been divulged in a year.

But despite an overwhelming mandate for change, there is little the new opposition-controlled legislature will be able to do about unwieldy currency and price controls — major factors in the economic mess.

At the news conference, Torrealba and other leaders from the opposition coalition's roughly two-dozen parties also called for the release of jailed activists including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was imprisoned for leading anti-government protests in 2014 that triggered violence leading to more than 40 deaths.

State television, which largely blocks out opposition rallies and press conference, has since Sunday minimized coverage of the election, instead broadcasting sports, and features on the government's social projects.

"This government does not understand that it lost," said opposition activist Maria Corina Machado, "nor the magnitude of what is at stake." 

Al Jazeera with wire services

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