Friday, October 27, 2006

How to dissolve the National Assembly of Venezuela?

This week a new issue came surprisingly to the forefront. Rosales, always finding ways to get the limelight and throw chavismo on the defensive did it beautifully by announcing that he would need a new National Assembly.

Indeed, the current assembly which is 100% sycophantic Chavez is not the best way to effect national reconciliation and good government if Rosales were to be elected next December. Some chavistas were not amused and said that the National Assembly could not be dissolved, that it would be a coup. This is wrong, as I will explain below. However the anecdote is always there with chavismo. Desiree Santos is a former journalist who has become the main engineer of limitation of civil rights new laws (the gag law owes a lot to her who knows exactly how to silence her former colleagues). As a reward she has been named the vice president of that National Assembly. Well, Desiree came out rather mad against the possible dissolution. One wonders why? After all if we are to believe the Zogby poll that circulated this week, chavismo is more than certain to be reelected. So why discuss a renewal of the National Assembly? Perhaps Desiree reads other polls not as encouraging?

Before discussing the legalities of the dissolution one should refocus the problem in a more constructive way.

If we go back to the government surveys that give Chavez anywhere between 50 and 60%, one should already wonder what good will it be for him to keep a 100% chavista assembly. Let’s assume a favorable result of Chavez of 60% and only 40% to Rosales, the Recall Election result. Well, how can Chavez justify to the rest of the world that he is indeed a democrat when 40% of the country has NO REPRESENTATION? What serious country will sign a serious treaty with Venezuela after December 3? Indeed, in December 2005 the opposition boycotted the election and it paid the price through 2005. But if the opposition runs and gets 40%, or even only 30%, that will call on the legitimacy of the parliament. The situation will change and Chavez will find that his pleasant monochromatic assembly will quickly turn into an albatross around his neck. Of course if he plans to establish a non-democratic regime then it will not matter. Is this what Chavez wants?

Thus it is my thesis that no matter who wins the election, he shall require a new National Assembly sooner than later.

The question now is how to do it. It is not that difficult.

The election result, whichever it will be, will require a new political system. If Chavez wins he will have to choose to remain a democrat or to move forward and establish a “no-return” socialist state which in fact will mean only that he is in charge until he dies. If Chavez decides to remain a democrat, then he will require a new assembly. It is that simple. For him that will be very easy. He can ask his deputies to resign all en masse and then new elections will be called. The opposition will not object and fresh from his presidential victory Chavez will likely manage to still get a commanding 2/3 majority but this time a legal AND a legitimate one.

The situation is more complex in the case of Rosales because well, the chavista unanimity will refuse to lose the fat paycheck they are getting (not to mention the nice “tips” they get for an occasional “service” to their “constituents”). But Rosales will need to do something about it and soon: he will not be able to pass a single law as I doubt that more than 50% will defect chavismo to join him. Well, there are several ways.

The first one is to call for a national pact and convince chavismo that it is in everyone’s best interest to have the National Assembly resign and go to new elections. In the 1999 constitution the election will be held to substitute a resigning or dead deputy and thus it will be elected ONLY to finish the current term, that is, less than 4 years by the time the election is held.

As this is certainly not going to happen, then there are three other options. The first one, a Recall Election on Assembly members, is ruled out immediately since Rosales cannot wait for June 2008 to hold such an election.

The second one will be to send the new Vice President to propose a law project in which he engages his/her responsibility. If the parliament rejects the law, then the Vice President is automatically dismissed. When this happens three times in a legislature, then the president has the right to dissolve the parliament according to article 240 which is quite clear on that (Desiree should check her own constitution). Of course this requires Rosales to name three Vice Presidents in a row as soon as possible and send them to the Assembly as fast as possible. Either the Assembly will be forced to approve the laws proposed or soon enough we could be facing new elections, as early as the third quarter of 2007.

And of course there is the call for a constitutional reform. This can be done drastically if chavismo is particularly obstructionist. Calling for a constituent assembly, or more amicably by calling an amendment such as term reduction of both President and Assembly can be done according to articles 341, 342, 347, 348, not to mention the famous 350.

In other words, it is possible to dissolve the Assembly and it will be very convenient no matter which side wins. Any heated argument against it can only be coming from sectors afraid of losing their privileges. Period.

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