(AFP) – Four newly-elected opposition governors reluctantly pledged allegiance Monday to Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, which until now they had dismissed as illegitimate.
The assembly was elected July 30 in polls called by unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro that were boycotted by the opposition.
The Constituent Assembly, packed with government supporters, replaced the opposition-dominated national assembly.
Its stated mandate is to overhaul the constitution of the oil-rich country, but it has been handed sweeping powers to override all other branches of government.
Critics have called this a bid by Maduro to perpetuate himself in power amid an acute economic crisis as the opposition tries to force him out through early elections. Dozens of countries have said they do not consider the assembly legitimate.
Maduro praised the oath as recognition of the “plenipotentiary powers” of the body, which has ruled with absolute power since August.
“They are governors that the people elected,” he said during a meeting with officials broadcast on radio and television.
Despite the economic crisis, which has led to shortages of food, medicine and such basics as toilet paper and soap, Maduro’s party did very well in gubernatorial elections held October 15, winning in 18 states and losing in just five.
Of those five, four of the opposition winners took the oath of office Monday pledging respect for the new assembly, the legislature said on Twitter, with a photo of them posing with its speaker Delcy Rodriguez.
The fifth opposition winner refused to join them and said he regretted his colleagues’ decision, calling the assembly “fraudulent.”
One of the four, Laidy Gomez, likened it to humbly swallowing bitter medicine with the longer-term goal of healing.
“When people ask you not to abandon them, a leader’s humiliation can be a way of achieving freedom,” Gomez wrote on Twitter before the swearing-in ceremony.
Under Venezuelan law, governors are sworn in by regional state legislatures, most of which are controlled by Maduro’s party.
But last week, the Constituent Assembly passed a law forcing governors to swear allegiance to it first, and then the regional legislatures.