- Global Voices - https://globalvoices.org -

Is This the End of the Fifth Republic in Venezuela?

Categories: Latin America, Venezuela, Elections, Governance, Law, Politics, Protest

Cartoon by Eduardo Sanabria (Edo). Used with permission.

After a month of continuous protests against President Nicolás Maduro's government, his announcement on May 1, 2017 calling for a “popular constitutional assembly” that would replace the country's current Constitution — approved in 1999 as the foundation stone of Hugo Chávez's mandate — was not well received by diverse sectors of Venezuelan society.

Moisés González, who considers himself a Chavista [2], wrote for the online news site Aporrea [3], affirming that the call opens two roads: the elimination of the so-called “Bolivarian [4] Constitution”, or the search of “formulas that violate the democratic principles that kept the Revolution legitimate”. González pointed out that:

Ambas opciones colocan entre la espada y la pared la continuidad del proceso democrático iniciado por Chávez en 1999. Ambas opciones limitan la posibilidad de la izquierda de reorganizarse y purgar sus filas para una recuperación verdadera de la Revolución Bolivariana. Ambas opciones colocan el país en bandeja de plata a la política reaccionaria. Ambas opciones pudieron evitarse con la publicación de un cronograma electoral y la aceptación de elecciones y demás posibilidades democráticas presentes en la mejor Constitución del continente.

Both options put the continuity of the democratic process started by Chávez in 1999 against the wall. But options limit the possibility for the left to reorganize and purge its members for a true recovery of the Bolivarian Revolution. Both options put the country on a silver platter for reactionary politics. Both options could have been avoided with the publication of an election timetable and the acceptance of elections, and all the other democratic possibilities that the best Constitution in the continent offers.

On the other hand, researcher Eduardo Febres backed the government's decision on his Twitter account:

I strongly mistrust Maduro's leadership. But I completely agree with the crisis exit proposal he put out today.

The initial declarations from Maduro were not clear as to the reach and methods of the call, which resulted in several interpretations by politicians, lawyers and regular citizens. 

On the website Prodavinci [6], José Ignacio Hernández evaluated the measure's legal aspects in terms of their constitutional fit:

Tomando en cuenta todo esto, podemos entonces valorar el riesgo de esa propuesta: la ilegítima designación de una “asamblea nacional constituyente popular”, en violación al derecho al sufragio directo, secreto y universal, permitiría afectar el funcionamiento de todos los Poderes Públicos y aprobar una nueva Constitución, todo ello, al margen de la democracia.

Por ello, en el fondo, el anuncio de convocar a una “asamblea nacional constituyente popular” no es más que la continuación del golpe de Estado permanente, ahora, en un nivel incluso superior.

Taking into account all these, we can then evaluate the risk of this proposal: the illegitimate designation of a ‘national popular constitutional assembly’, in violation of the direct, secret and universal voting rights, that would allow disruption of all the Public Powers, now, on an even superior level.

The measure has been qualified as arbitrary; a radical answer to the pressure that looms over Maduro after the almost daily protests that have hit the country since March 30, 2017, when the National Assembly was dissolved [7], and a sort of “forward runaway [8]” that pretends to change the game rules to allow him to stay in power for longer.

If it is indeed called, the Constitutional Assembly puts a hold to all kinds of elections, and places under its orders the rest of the constitutional powers.

Eugenio Martínez, a famed journalist, asserted:

Chavismo calls for the only election it can win: an election of the ANC (National Constitutional Assembly) that manipulates the electoral bases and system.

Cartonist Roberto Weil reflects this scenario by drawing a Nicolas Maduro, in check, who “order[s] that the rules be changed”:

Weil nailed it.

A confusing measure against the clock

Lawyer and writer Gonzalo Himiob Santomé posted [12] on his Facebook profile his interpretation of the measure's meaning:

En mi criterio, la intención de Maduro detrás de la maniobra, indiscutiblemente inconstitucional, es la de simular apego a los mecanismos democráticos y supuesto “respeto” a la soberanía popular para, en primer lugar, ganar tiempo, y en segundo lugar, para tener a la mano y bajo control una instancia que estará por encima de todos los poderes constituidos (Fiscalía, y Asamblea Nacional, entre otros) para entonces poder gobernar sin la incomodidad y obstáculos que le impone nuestro modelo de Estado.

In my view, the Maduro's intention behind this move, undeniably unconstitutional, is to simulate he's following the democratic mechanisms and a supposed ‘respect’ to popular sovereignty so, in the first place, he can win time, and in second place, he can have a close and controlled tool that would be above all constitutional powers (Attorney's Office, National Assembly, among others) so he can govern without the discomfort and obstacles that our State model imposes on him.

According to Maduro's own words from Monday, the formation process of the Assembly would imply the election of at least 500 representatives, half of which would be chosen by sector representation; that is, by social categories that presumably will derive from organizations like community councils, which are not provided for in the Constitution, and are the result of social and political control from the government. Journalist and activist Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez wrote [13]:

Así que el disfraz de elegir 200 o 250 constituyentistas de los 500 propuestos por Nikolav para la Constituyente “popular, obrera y comunal” busca ahorrarse el referendo consultivo necesario (si la gente quiere o no ir a este proceso) y disfrazar de “democracia popular” una elección en segundo grado que viola la universalidad del voto y de la elegibilidad: es decir, que cualquiera pueda votar o ser elegido.

So the disguise of electing 200 or 250 constitutionalists of the 500 proposed by Nikolav [Nicolás] for the ‘popular, working and community’ Constitutional Assembly is looking to save himself from the necessary referendum needed (to ask the people whether or not they want this process at all) and don a mask of ‘popular democracy’ to a second degree election that violates the universality and eligibility of the vote: which is that anyone can vote or be elected.

On Tuesday May 2, 2017, the professors of Constitutional Law of Venezuela's Central University pronounced themselves [14] against the initiative, underlining that the vote should be universal, free, direct and secret; and that even if the president has the right to propose a constitutional initiative, he cannot call to a direct election without a previous referendum.

The next day, in a closed-door session, President Maduro read and signed Decree 2.830 [15], which pretends to “activate” the call for a process named “Citizen Constitutional National Assembly”. As expected, the decree confirms that the members of said assembly will be elected:

[…] en los ámbitos sectoriales y territoriales bajo la rectoría del Consejo Nacional Electoral, mediante el voto universal, directo y secreto […].

[…] within the sector and territorial spheres, under the rule of the National Electoral Council, by universal, direct and secret vote […].

This confirms, as pointed out by José Ignacio Hernández, that the election won't be universal [16], but:

[…] un sistema de elección por ‘sectores’, permitiendo a cada sector definido por el Gobierno (la clase obrera, por ejemplo), designar, dentro de su seno, a los representantes ante la asamblea constituyente. Al menos, como se dijo el 1° de mayo, para la mitad de los constituyentes, lo que garantiza al Gobierno controlar a esta fraudulenta asamblea nacional constituyente.

[…] an election system by ‘sectors’, allowing each sector defined by the government (the working class, for example), to designate, within its inner circle, the representatives to the constitutional assembly. At least, as it was said on May 1, for half the electoral members, which guarantees the government control over this fraudulent constitutional national assembly.

Follow our Venezuela special coverage [17] with more articles about the latest developments in the country.