Wednesday 17, September 2003 (for the thrid time)
Last week the electoral council decided to invalidate the request for the recall election. It promised to handle this week the rules so that a new petition drive could be held. A preliminary document was offered for consideration to the political parties and an immediate outcry rose from the opposition, while even the some government supporters could not be totally satisfied with it.
Before getting into a lot of hand wringing and recrimination it would be best to consider a few facts to understand better what is at play here.
Article 72 of the 1999 constitution states clearly that any elected official can be subjected to a recall election petition if 20% of the electoral list signs for it, once the midterm of he office has been reached. Period. Well, not quite, 25% at least of voters must bother to vote and the votes for the ousting of the official must be greater than those that elected official got the first time. But these matter only if the petition is determined valid to ask for a recall election. So let's not worry about it for the time being.
Article 230 fixes the presidential term at 6 years with a single re-election immediately following the first term in office.
Article 233 states that if there is a vacancy in the presidential office, a new election must be held "to complete the constitutional term." However, if that vacancy occurs after the 4th year, the vice president will finish the term, no new election.
A recall election constitutes of course an immediate "vacancy" in the presidential chair.
Chavez assuredly reads the polls even if he denies it and denigrates them in public. If he were so sure to win we would have already voted! But the polls are lousy and he knows it will be a while until he can improve his numbers.
Polls are clear that the people want Chavez out. An agreement has been signed to reach an election of sorts to pacify the country. Foreign powers are watching, the OAS has a stake.
So, what to do?
1) Block at any rate the election, but with at least an external legal patina.
2) If an election cannot be blocked let's be sure it is at least after August 19, 2004. That way whoever is the vice president can continue to rule until 2006 and Chavez can try to come back then.
3) If an election cannot be postponed until August 2004 then let's try to make it impossible for the opposition to garner the votes on election day.
4) If everything fails, then real bloody violence will become a definite option.
Would you do anything else if you had Chavez thuggish mentality?
What is playing now at the CNE is a crass attempt to achieve as many advantages as possible to fulfill any of the above criteria when the time comes.
Right now several approaches are taken, ranging from only allowing political parties to petition for referenda, to making it difficult to raise signatures. Most of these initiatives violate some article of the constitution and thus will be bound to be appealed to the high court and thus favoring option 2. Discussing them in detail now is pointless since we must wait what will be the final outcome.
Political parties have screamed loud enough that the publication of the new norms announced for today had to be postponed until next Monday, which is something I was expecting and yelled at for even thinking of it! But spirits are really tense these days. One must not fall into the Chavez trap, to create a national commotion and thus allowing him to establish some form of state of exception, the ideal way for him to postpone ad infinitum the recall election. The opposition must keep a cool head. Now it is time to maneuver, there will be always a chance to kick the chessboard.