Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chavez new Constitution: article 230 (Bruni S.)

Commented by Brunilde Sansò.

Old article 230:

The presidential period is of 6 years. The President of the Republic can be reelected immediately, only once, for a new period.

New article 230:

The presidential period is of 7 years. The President of the Republic can be reelected immediately for a new period.

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There are several negative aspects concerning this article that I would discuss in three items.

1.-The illegality of the proposal


To understand the whole impact of this modification, one has to understand that before 1999, the Constitution did not even allow a single reelection. The reason was precisely to avoid that one of the many caudillo-type of president that Venezuelans have witnessed in history would use the Constitution to stay in power forever.

In 1999, the Constitution proposed by Chávez introduced, for the first time in modern times, the figure of a reelection and increased the presidential term from 5 to 6 years. However, just a single reelection was allowed.

Now, Chavez's current proposal is twofold: eliminate reelections limit and increase the length of the Presidential term. It means the possibility of holding power for a longer time and being reelected without restrictions.

This concept is simply unconstitutional because of the following two articles, the first being in the Fundamental Principles of the Constitution.
Article 6.-The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its political entities is and will always be democratic, participative, decentralized, alternative, responsible, plural and will have revocable mandates.

Article 342.-The object of the Reform is to partially reform and substitute one or several norms that will not modify the structure and the fundamental principles of the constitutional text.
Since Alternation is a Fundamental Principle underlined in Article 6, the Continuous Reelection proposed in this Reform goes against Article 6. Now, Article 342 says that no Fundamental Principle can be touched by a Constitutional Reform. Therefore, the proposed modification is simply unconstitutional.


2.- The Presidential Asymmetry of power introduced by the proposal

When President Chávez is asked about the dangers of allowing continuous reelection, he always states that the People of Venezuela hold the Sovereignty and that based on that principle, they have the right to decide whether they want the President to stay in power.

If one accepts that logic, then one may ask why the People of Venezuela do not hold that Sovereignty when it is time to reelect a governor or a mayor?

Thus, the fact that this principle of continuous reelection is introduced only for the President of the Republic and not for any other elected official shows a clear Asymmetry of Power that is exacerbated in the Presidential figure.


3.- A de-facto Constitutional dictatorship proposal

Those that provide examples of healthy democracies in which continuous reelection is allowed forget that those cases only occur either in Parliamentary systems or mixed systems with strong parliamentary figures. In Parliamentary systems the Prime Minister has power as long as his/her party allows it; the Leader of the opposition is part of the government and for the other governmental entities, strict separation of powers is the norm. Thus, continuous reelection does not pose a threat to democracy because power is well spread and appropriate opposition representation in power is present.

All the other existing cases where continuous reelection is currently allowed (like Cuba) are, in fact, dictatorships.

President Chávez has already unprecedented power. The Supreme Court, The National Assembly, The People's Ombudsman, The General Prosecutor, the Central Bank and, most importantly, The National Electoral Council, are all totally under his grip. Moreover, the proposed Reform will provide him with even larger and more important powers than those that he has accumulated up to now. In fact, Constitutional scholars claim that no President in the history of Venezuela, not even dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, had requested as many powers in a Constitutional Reform.

Under those circumstances allowing continuous reelection in the Constitution would be the equivalent of handling a dictatorship for life to Hugo Chávez, or to whoever happened to be the President of Venezuela under such a Reformed Constitution.

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A related Spanish language version by the author exists here. Though a full translation of this post will come shortly and announced in due time.

Private correspondence abo
ut this post to the author can be addressed directly at this address venezuela.constitution.trap @ gmail.com including the article number in the subject line.

-The end-

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