CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's opposition-dominated congress declared President Nicolas Maduro had abandoned his post as the clock ran out Monday on the opposition's effort to oust the socialist leader in a recall vote.
The vote was symbolic since the National Assembly has no power to remove a president.
Critics of the deeply unpopular Maduro spent 2016 calling for a recall referendum that would lead to a new presidential election, buoyed by polls saying an overwhelming majority of the country supported the campaign as food shortages worsen and inflation runs in the triple digits. But judges and electoral officials friendly to the administration blocked the recall referendum at every turn.
A recall is still legally possible. But Tuesday marked the start of the last two years of Maduro's term, and Venezuela's constitution says any successful recall vote after this point would result only in Maduro being replaced by his hard-line vice president without any new election.
Congress leaders seem to have given up on the recall effort, and instead restarted a symbolic political trial of Maduro on Monday.
In the afternoon, lawmakers adopted a resolution declaring that the president had abandoned his post even though Maduro appears on hours-long television broadcasts most days and has been taking steps to increase his authority, including passing emergency decrees. Lawmakers said that while he is very present in daily political life, he has failed to perform the basic duties of governing the country.
Congress adopted new leadership last week widely seen as more moderate, but the return to the political trial suggests the opposition will continue to follow the same playbook as last year.
The opposition had briefly suspended the political trial as a gesture of good will while it engaged in Vatican-mediated talks with Maduro's government in the fall. Those talks fell apart after the opposition said the government was refusing to make real concessions.
Socialist Party leaders brushed off the resolution. Former congress president and Socialist Party heavyweight Diosdado Cabello said congress had acted disobediently and the political trial would make no difference.
"The truth is Maduro will continue as president," he said.
Hannah Dreier is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hannahdreier . Her work can be found at https://www.ap.org/explore/venezuela-undone .