Venezuela’s ruling party has installed a new super assembly, defying criticism from at home and around the world at what was branded a “sham election”.
On Sunday and amid widespread violence the country voted for an all-powerful constituent assembly.
Venezuela’s electoral council said more than eight million people voted – a turnout of 41.5% – but this figure was disputed by opposition leaders.
The company which provided the technology which recorded the votes said the results were tampered with.
Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, described the vote as a “sham election” which took the South American country “another step toward dictatorship”.
President Nicolas Maduro has said that the constituent assembly will bring peace after months of crisis which have left 120 people dead and hundreds more imprisoned over the bid to rewrite the constitution.
However, critics say the creation of the constituent assembly will only deepen the divisions.
The constituent assembly is made up of pro-government trade unionists, former ministers who resigned their posts to join the body, students and even representatives of Venezuelans with physical disabilities.
Mr Maduro’s wife and son also sit in the assembly.
It will have powers to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution and override the opposition-controlled congress, in theory it could even remove President Nicolas Maduro, an argument put forward by pro-government supporters that the assembly’s creation is not a power grab.
Opponents of President Maduro fear the installation of the super assembly will trigger the end of democracy and impose dictatorship, while supporters of the new super assembly argue that its installation will pacify the country.
After its installation on Friday, the constituent assembly’s first order of business was selecting its head, the former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, a loyal follower of President Maduro.
The nomination was approved unanimously by the 545 delegates, who marched to the legislative palace accompanied by hundreds of red-shirted government supporters carrying roses and giant portraits of the late Hugo Chavez, Mr Maduro’s predecessor and mentor.
The assembly will meet again on Saturday, with Ms Rodriguez pledging that it will be taking action against Mr Maduro’s political opponents.
“Don’t think we’re going to wait weeks, months or years,” she said.
“Tomorrow we start to act. The violent fascists, those who wage economic war on the people, those who wage psychological war, justice is coming for you.”
One of the assembly’s first tasks is likely to be the closure of the opposition-controlled congress and the removal of chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, a longtime supporter of Chavez who recently broke with Mr Maduro
President Maduro has vowed that the assembly will strip opposition politicians of their constitutional immunity from prosecution, while members of congress say they will only be removed by force.
Amid the rising tensions, an increasing number of foreign governments have sided with the opposition, refusing to recognise the constituent assembly and further isolating Mr Maduro’s government.
On Friday, the Vatican urged Maduro to suspend the new body, expressing “deep worry for the radicalisation and worsening” of the turmoil in Venezuela.
Foreign ministers from several South American countries will meet in Brazil on Saturday for an emergency meeting to decide whether to evict Venezuela from the Mercosur trade bloc for violating its democratic norms.
Venezuela was suspended from the group in December.