Friday, May 28, 2004

A Faustian Bargain: Recall Elections

Tomorrow Venezuela is going through yet one more motion to try to unseat the Chavez administration through the process of a Recall Election. Considering the political unrest, the divisiveness that this process has brought to Venezuela since late 2002, I am not afraid to state that the Venezuelan constitution would be better of without that provision.

What was the origin of the Recall Election in the 1999 constitution?

Chavez for all practical purpose did write the important articles of the 1999 constitution. He wanted an instrument that would ensure him control of the main Venezuelan institutions. He wanted to ensure his permanence in power for as long as legally possible. Thus one of the things he had to achieve was to make palatable the possibility of immediate presidential reelection, an idea frowned upon by the Venezuelan political culture since our days of "president for life" 60 years ago. Not to mention a wished for presidential term extended from 5 to 6 years, ensuring 12 years at the very least.

Perhaps under the advice of political hacks such as the now defunct Ceresole, he came up with the idea of the recall election feature (referendum revocatorio) at the mid term of any elected public official. Banking on his sky high popularity and a difficult mechanism Chavez and his advisors probably thought that it would never happen to him (20% of the electorate must petition for it to take place and the yeah votes must be more numerous than the votes that elected the official).

But his misrule has done him in. And the unthinkable, for all parties, might just happen this week end. Perhaps 20% of the Venezuelan electorate will manage to have their signatures recognized. In the process they will have bravely surrendered their right to a secret vote. If Chavez decides to remove his democratic mask he will have the list of all his political enemies to strike back at. If Chavez loses, the ones that signed to have him removed will demand a payback from having been obliged to reach such humiliating extremes, from having had to take such risks. Those that did not sign risk the wrath of those who signed.

Chavez made a Faustian bargain to obtain eternal political youth. Now the country is severely rent. It was not worth it.

If Chavez goes in August as a consequence of a recall election, the new leaders will be well advised to remove the recall election feature, which has demonstrated to be very divisive, in Venezuela, in California last year, in San Francisco under Mayor Feinstein. A constitutional amendment should be promptly submitted for approbation establishing a 4 year presidential term, a single and immediate reelection and no recall election, at least not for the president. If we make a mistake electing a president we will know that he will last 4 years, top. Chavez has already been in office for 5 years and a half, and we are getting closer and closer to a civil war.

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