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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com

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Maduro Sees His Power Crumble, Will Venezuela’s Oil Be Privatized?

Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Madur says the new majority in the National Assembly plans to privatize the country’s most lucrative industries, the state-run oil and telecommunications sectors.

Members of Democratic Action, which had made up an opposition party for 17 years under the late President Hugo Chavez and Maduro, his successor, were sworn in Tuesday as the country’s new legislative majority.

Democratic Action had won a two-thirds majority in last month’s elections, giving it super-majority status in their challenge to change Maduros’ approach to government. But at the last moment, the country’s Supreme Court refused to allow four of them to take their seats because of accusations of electoral fraud, and only 163 of the 167 took oaths of office. The two-thirds majority status is now in limbo.

Still, Maduro is leery of the plans of the new majority party, which he says is planning to destabilize the country with a threat to privatize the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and the state television channel CANTV. On Monday he announced plans to take steps that he said would avert an “economic emergency.” Related: BP’s CEO Finally Sees Oil Prices Bottoming Out

“I’m evaluating the strengthening of a strategic plan,” Maduro said in an address to the nation. “We are going to activate an emergency plan and reconstruct our economy.”

The president gave the speech after holding a meeting at Miraflores Palace, the country’s executive mansion, with senior officials of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela, known by its Spanish initials PSUV, to discuss how to cope with a newly hostile National Assembly.

During that meeting he praised fellow PSUV member Hector Rodriguez, a lawmaker from the state of Bolivar, for creating a legislative bloc opposing Democratic Action and for criticizing the new majority party for choosing Henry Ramos Allup, its secretary-general, as the new president of the National Assembly. Related: 10 Key Energy Trends To Watch For In 2016

The PSUV views Ramos Allup as a relic of the country’s “old guard,” when Democratic Action controlled not only the National Assembly but also the presidency during the 1980s, a time when capitalism ruled in Venezuela to the point where private companies were in charge of public services. Official corruption also was rampant at the time.

It was this corruption and economic imbalance that eventually led to the election of Chavez in 1998.

In an interview with Venezuela’s Globovision network, Ramos Allup said the National Assembly intends to work cooperatively with Maduros’ administration, though he conceded that legislators are empowered under Venezuela’s constitution to oust Maduro before the next presidential election, scheduled for 2019. Related: Oil Prices Continue To Slide As Gasoline Inventories Build

In fact, he said, the National Assembly may consider mounting a nationwide referendum on an amendment to the constitution that would shorten a president’s term in office, a move that also would be allowed by the constitution.

“If the president wants to resign, that’s [also] a mechanism,” Ramos Allup said. “It’s the government’s decision, and I think President Maduro should be thinking of that possibility. … If it’s an avenue that helps solve the political crisis, why discard it?”

But Ramos Allup made no reference to plans by Democratic Action to privatize the country’s oil and telecommunications industries.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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