Monday, September 17, 2007

Chavez new constitution: article 252

Article 252

The council of state is presided by the President of the Republic and it is also includes the President of the National Assembly, the President of the TSJ [high court], the President of the Citizen Power, the President of the Electoral Council and the people that the president of the republic deems necessary to summon to deal with the matter at hand in the consultation.

According to article 251 the council of State was a gathering of certain figures who were supposed to discuss and think about some project of special importance for the nation (Constitutional changes? Decentralization schemes?). Its origin is probably inspired from French constitutional tradition where in addition to propose administrative and constitutional matters to the government, the "Conseil d'Etat" also serves as a chamber which verifies the legality and constitutionality of laws before they are published. It is also an administrative tribunal where administration infighting as well as problems between the pubic service and the public can be settled before they go to judicial trials. The 1999 constitution created this novel figure in Venezuela but with much, much less power than what its inspiration might have been (after all there is a TSJ which covers some of the legal functions of the French Conseil). The Venezuelan council seems to have been intended as a simple gathering of notables to deal with matters of a certain importance that the president could not bother dealing with. As a matter of fact it was never assembled that I know of, and the law that was supposed to describe its function and organization in detail was never passed!

What is noteworthy in this text is the change from the old article. Then the council was presided by the vice president of the republic, 5 folks named by the president, one representative of the national assembly, one representative from the TSJ and one governor named by the other ones. With this composition that council was designed to give something else to do to the vice president of Venezuela, a consultative body who would discuss matters of national importance. Now, in the new structure the council will be completely controlled by the president who will call it as he needs, probably never. Observe that the lone figure of the governor is now excluded while for some inexplicable reason the electoral council now seats in the council.

It seems that the intended purpose for that council will be that of a registration chamber of sorts. Besides making the vice president a lesser function (in addition to the creation of several vice-presidencies it is now excluded of the body it could have directed) the president of the republic, the executive branch of power, will have an opportunity to demonstrate that it is the superior power of the five recognized powers in the 1999 constitution. That council of state will include all the powers but will be gathered only at the suffering of the president, and presided by this one. And the elected governors will not be good enough to send a single voice, lowering their rank even further. The symbol will be strong.

Since it is difficult to conceive that the National Assembly (which names the other powers) will change hands in the foreseeable future, we can safely gather that this council will never be called, unless Chavez decides at some point to create some pageantry. But just in case, Chavez covered his back from such a council putative initiative since in the previous version the vice president could have theoretically called a meeting without notifying the president to examine questions that the president would not like to examine (for example the mental incompetence of a sitting president?). And that, simply, is unacceptable in the new power scheme of Venezuela.

Contact: any information you wish to exchange outside of the comment section can be done so at putting in the subject line "article 252"


PS: (also to be removed later). So far I have enough commitments for about half of the 33 articles. You still have time to make your choice. The articles assigned officially are so far 115, 11, 16, 18, 90, 230, this 252 and a commitment yet undeclared for at least 6 other ones. Since I plan to publish no more than 5 a week you have plenty of time to chose and write your comments. Note 1: there is also a special mail address created to which contributors will have access to simplify exchange with those who prefer mail than comments, or who want to send interesting attachments. Note 2: I am open to further tinkering of this format as the presentation for some articles might imply certain adaptations.

-The end-

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