Under its previous
1961 Constitution, Venezuela had a bicameral legislature, known as the Congress (Congreso). This Congress was composed of a Senate (Senado) and a Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados).
The Senate was made up of two senators per state, two for the Federal District, and a number of ex officio senators intended to represent the nation's minorities. In addition, former presidents (those elected democratically or their replacements legally appointed to serve at least half a presidential term) were awarded lifetime senate seats.
Senators were required to be Venezuelan-born citizens and over the age of 30.
The members of the Chamber of Deputies were elected by direct universal suffrage, with each state returning at least two. Deputies had to be at least 21 years old.
The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies were each led by a President, and both performed their functions with the help of a Directorial Board.
President Hugo Chávez was first elected in December 1998 on a platform calling for a National Constituent Assembly to be convened to draft a new constitution for Venezuela. Chávez's argument was that the existing political system, under the earlier 1961 Constitution, had become isolated from the people. This won broad acceptance, particularly among Venezuela's poorest classes, who had seen a significant decline in their living standards over the previous decade and a half. The National Constituent Assembly (ANC), consisting of 131 elected individuals, convened in August 1999 to begin rewriting the constitution. In free elections, voters gave all but six seats to persons associated with the Chávez movement.
The Venezuelan people approved the ANC's proposed constitution in a referendum on 15 December 1999. It was promulgated by the ANC and came into effect the following 20 December.
Venezuelan parliamentary election, 2015 saw the election of both Rosmit Mantilla, the first-ever openly gay member of the assembly, and Tamara Adrián, the first openly transgender member.
2017 constitutional crisis
On 29 March 2017, the Supreme Court (TSJ) stripped the Assembly of its powers, ruling that all powers would be transferred to the Supreme Court. The previous year the Court has found the Assembly in contempt for swearing in legislators whose elections had been deemed invalid by the court. The 2017 court judgement declared that the "situation of contempt" meant that the Assembly could not exercise its powers. The action transferred powers from the Assembly, which had an opposition majority since January 2016, to the Supreme Court, which has a majority of government loyalists. The move was denounced by the opposition with Assembly President Julio Borges describing the action as a coup d'état by President Nicolás Maduro. However, after public protests and condemnation by international bodies, the court's decision was reversed a few days later on 1 April.
On 4 August 2017, Venezuela convened a new Constituent Assembly after a special election which was boycotted by opposition parties; foreign observers declared the result to have been manipulated. The new Constituent Assembly is intended to rewrite the constitution; it also has wide legal powers allowing it to rule above all other state institutions. The Constituent Assembly meets within the Federal Legislative Palace; the leadership of the National Assembly have said it would continue its work as a legislature and it will still continue to meet in the same building.
On 18 August the Constituent Assembly summoned the members of the National Assembly to attend a ceremony acknowledging its legal superiority; the opposition members of the National Assembly boycotted the event. In response, the Constitutional Assembly stripped the National Assembly of its legislative powers, assuming them for itself. It justified the move by claiming that the National Assembly had failed to prevent what it called "opposition violence" in the form of the 2017 Venezuelan protests. The constitutionality of this move has been questioned, and it has been condemned by several foreign governments and international bodies.