Yesterday I discussed Art. 344 of the Venezuelan Constitution and suggested the opposition should concentrate on activating the vote in the upcoming referendum on having people vote on some individual articles (The Constitution allows this only in one third of the articles proposed for the reform). I also suggested that Chavismo would find a way of stopping this since the main objective of the reform is Chavez’ indefinite reelection and polls suggest 65% of the people reject this particular aspect, but this does not mean they would necessarily vote against the whole reform.
Well, no sooner had I said this, when today Deputy Carlos Escarra, said that Art. 344 of the Constitution does not say, as interpreted by many, that 5% of the people can sign a petition to ask for the article by article vote, but the proponent of the reform has to include it in the proposal. Since Chavez did not propose it, then, according to Escarra, the only recourse the opposition has is to propose an alternate project to modify the Constitution.
I am no lawyer, but I don’t buy it. There are too many inconsistencies with that interpretation. Let’s review the issue. Below is the article literally translated by me (minus some fluff such as both genders being included and the definition of registered voters):
344. The project for Constitutional Reform approved by the National
Assembly will be submitted to a referendum within thirty days following its
approval. The referendum will pronounce itself as a whole over the reform, but up
to a third could be voted separately, if it thus approved by a
number no less than one third of the National Assembly or if in the
initiative of the reform it had been requested by the President or
by a number of no less than five percent of registered votes.
Let’s concentrate on the second sentence. It says that the…”referendum will pronounce itself as a whole over the reform, but up to a third could be voted separately, if
it is thus approved by a number of no less than one third of the National Assembly….
or if if in the initiative of the reform it had been requested by the President…
or by a number of no less than five per cent of registered voters.
Now, in legalese, the subject of all that above is the referendum, which will be voted as a whole, unless one of three conditions occur.
The Assembly has not agreed to it, Chavez did not request, but…
a number of no less than 5% of registered voters can request it.
It does not say in my mind, that as Escarra suggests, when the initiative had been made by popular request…5% of the people can request an article by article vote.
Why? because it would appear to me that the two are unrelated. Art. 342 of the Constitution is the one that establishes that 15% (not 5%!) of the people can request a Constitutional reform. Escarra’s interpretation would say that Chavez can request it as part of his proposal that it be voted article by article, but the people can not include it in their proposal but instead have to do another petition, which requires only one third of the original 15%. Does not seem logical to me
This would thus appear to be inconsistent.
But it does reveal how bad the 2000 Constitution is due to the fact that it was rushed. For example, it establishes that one third of the article can be voted on individually. What happens if more than one group of 5% of the population asks for “their” one third of the article to be voted on individually? You can have three or four petitions like that. What do you do then?
One of the members of the Board of the Electoral Board agrees with this interpretation and will propose the CNE that it be allowed.
Thus, I reiterate that the opposition should concentrate in formulating and gathering a petition that should include a small number of articles to vote on individually. I would include only the one about the indefinite reelection, the one on private property and any other article that can be explained to people in very simple terms.