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Maneuvers by Hugo Chávez

By Democracia y Desarrollo

The recall –RR- has gained a new dimension. Chávez was elected for five years in December, 1998 and he took office on February 2nd , 1999. Within the democratic tradition of the country he would be passing on the presidential belt to whomever would have been elected in elections this last December. The process he has labeled the Bolivarian Revolution is well known. Right now, the Constitution he imposed allows him to stay in power until 2006, at which time he could be re-elected for six more years. He already launched his candidacy for re-election. Each time there is a chance to say so, he says he’ll rule until 2021. The announcement is a slogan of his followers which they repeat in their street demonstrations, is written on the signs they carry and the graffiti they draw on city sites, Chavista parliamentarians affirm they plan to reform the Constitution to authorize reelection indefinitely.

Chávez means it. One of his personality traits is that he does hide his purposes. In five years he has established a military autocracy and the project is to transform it in the manner indicated at the end of this report. Notwithstanding, at present, it has problems. Among others, that the iron clad of other public powers has grown weaker –especially- in the Parliament (one chamber Assembly) and in the Supreme Court (SC).

The National Assembly (NA) is made of 165 deputies. The regime has lost the large majority once it enjoyed. Numerous deputies have withdrawn from officialdom dissenting from the direction he has given to the “process”. An Autonomous Parliamentary Bloc has been formed by opposition members and dissident Chavistas. Between both groups there is a difference of 4 to 6 seats –which strips officialdom from the qualified majority demanded by the Constitution, in diverse circumstances. Moreover, the autonomous bloc exercises rule rights to avoid the imposition of legislation or resolutions with which it disagrees.

To resolve parliamentary difficulties officialdom has resorted to an inconceivable procedure in any democratic society: reforming the debate by-laws to adjust it conveniently. There are already six reforms and the seventh has been presented, hence making the NA a legislative office of the executive branch of government. Besides, it has endowed the successive by-laws with supraconstitutional hierarchy, an unprecedented feat in civilized countries. According to this seventh reform, the ruling body -made of three of Chávez’s butlers- could decide sessions to be held outside the Capitol. It has been already announced that it will be in Chavista holy grounds, safeguarded by their armed bands. In keeping with the Constitution, quorum shall not be less than the absolute majority of its membership. The 7th reform, however, establishes quorum “at half + one of deputies present.”

Besides limiting the number of interventions –which would allow officialdom to silence the opposition- by simply meeting the respective required number, the ruling body or the majority have the power to impose a gradual scale of sanctions weakening the exercise of the parliamentary function to the point that the Executive Junta could, practically, indefinitely suspend those found faulty. It is the power of the ruling body to decide what is a fault.

A member of the Assembly can only be indefinitely suspended by a recall or by the commission of a felony allowing the SC to strip him or her of immunity to bring her or him to trial. Deputies are not responsible for votes or opinions issued in the exercise of their duties and responsibilities: this is what the Constitution says. The by-law seeks to authorize the ruling body or any number of participants in a given session, to decide on the behavior of a parliamentarian , as even deserving of an indefinite suspension = revoking his or her term.

A MORE DOCILE SUPREME COURT

The goal sought by the governmental parliamentary group is to pave the way for the Supreme Court Act increasing the number of Justices to 32; for the National Police Act seeking to allow the central government to strip governors and majors from their public safety services. The so-called Muzzle Law aimed at the control of the mass media and a new Penal Code, inspired in the Cuban model, wishing to qualify as delinquent significant aspects of functions of the opposition.

As well as in the Assembly, Chávez’s ironclad control of the SC has weakened. The rule of the Court ought to be renewed yearly. 2003 came to an end without the designation of the new ruling structure. It was public and notorious that ten of twenty Justices, decide to take action disobeying instructions from Miraflores. However, the regime has the support of three of five members in the powerful Constitutional Hall. The SC is ruled by an Organic Act. The Constitution stipulates the qualified vote of two thirds of the Assembly in order to sanction or modify organic legislation, as well as for the removal of magistrates. Last January 19th , Constitutional Hall, with the vote of three officialdom magistrates, allowed the National Assembly to sanction with a simple majority the new Organic Law of the SC. Chavista leaders in the Assembly greeted this Constitutional Hall decision as a contribution towards the good functioning of the legislative power and promised to carry forward the reform of the by-laws to pass pending legislation.

CHÁVEZ DOES NOT WANT THE RECALL

The RR gains a new dimension for Chávez. The President met with Jimmy Carter on January 26th and offered him a luncheon the next day. At lunch’s end he met with the press. Responding a reporter’s question he said that, indeed, he had contemplated the idea of the RR –as it is his policy to “always consider the worst scenarios.” Then he went on to say that the opposition had not gathered the necessary signatures. In all of his statements at home and abroad, he argues about a “mega fraud”. He adds that if the NEC schedules the RR, he’ll get a landslide backing. He alleges the surveys, even those of the opposition, show the huge popular support he enjoys. Why then, does he labels the recall the worst scenario?

Logically, if the polls are favorable to him, to be part of the recall process would be the best rather than the worst scenario. To get the electoral inquiry, pristinely conducted, to turn out adversely to those who promote it -would relegitimized him- while becoming a lethal blow vs. the opposition. It would give him a most advantageous position in this year’s governors and mayors elections, as well as in the parliamentary elections next year and the 2006 presidential campaign. In short, if he cleanly wins the RR, he would be successfully facing the problems of governance which are his Achilles Tendon. He would also resolve –for the most part- the questions of the international community about his regime. He would also be abiding by the recommendations of the OAS, UNPD, Group of Friendly Nations and those he received at the Monterrey Summit. Another dividend –perhaps the most important-, he would appease the malaise at the barracks.

Notwithstanding, Chávez doe not want the recall. He knows he’ll lose it. He maneuvers to stop it. The OAS set the alarm off when Fernando Jaramillo had proof that within the NEC, there was an attempt to massively invalidate signatures requesting the RR. He energetically demanded access to the quality control and the work of the Technical Committee empowered to examine the voluminous material under observation of junior staff who –apparently- had been instructed to program the invalidation of over 40 % of the signatures.

OAS and Carter Center people –as well as Carter himself- verified that Súmate had scanned 388,400 forms. Out of these forms it processed 3,488,747 raw signatures. It discarded 2.30 % of non-register in the Permanent Electoral Registry (PER): 0.37 % with mistaken name; 2.74 % with mistaken dates; 0.90 % with mistakes in both and 0.90 % of duplicate signatures. Thus, 3,183,526 errorless signatures vs. the PER, constituting 89.89 % of those collected by the REAFIRMAZO. The Constitution requires 2,436,083 signatures for the RR, hence, there is a security margin of 747,444 signatures (30.68 %).

The RR also offers a new dimension to the opposition. The DCG proposes to harden its position before the NEC. It is convinced that within that body, the view is gaining ground for a maximum delay of the decision regarding the propriety of the presidential recall. The strategy by Chávez is clear enough: a) to delay the signatures verification and, at the same time, to succeed in getting the NEC to accept the annulment of 40 % of those under scrutiny; b) to proceed with his electoral campaign. If he fails in stopping the recall, -through intimidation, threats and violence-, he’ll try to top the opposition from getting the necessary votes to revoke his term.

THE REAL DIMENSION OF THE RECALL

Chávez does not admit the RR because, in spite of his boasting, official polls reveal that a determining majority views him as incapable of resolving the country’s quagmire; guilty of it; that as long as he rules changes Venezuela wants will not come into being and that government plans and programs are geared to control and indoctrinate. Official spokespeople boast about the electoral impact of missions [Sucre; Robinson; Ribas and others], but two thirds of the populace say that they have not benefited from said plans.

Recent elections in the Engineers Associations nationwide were an appalling defeat for Chavistas who had previously enjoyed landslide victories. Democratic slates gained 68% of the votes and Chavistas only 24 %. A most interesting fact is that there were two slates of the so-called ni-ni candidates (undecided): one received 2 % and the second 5 % of the vote.

The DCG has examined recall possibilities in all the states and municipalities. Results show that there are five million of assured voters for YES, out of a total electorate of twelve million. For Chávez to overcome this figure a shocking fraud would have to be fabricated.

Conclusions:

The opposition presented the NEC with signatures far-exceeding the required number to call the RR.

A consistent majority would vote for revoking the presidential mandate.

The challenge for the opposition is to ensure respect of the signatures and to mobilize the five million citizens willing to vote YES.

If these goals are not achieved, possibilities in the other forthcoming elections –governors; mayors; parliamentarians and President in 2006- would be greatly weakened. But the worst, -if Chávez stops the recall or free citizenry participation in it- will be that the Venezuelan Crisis would regain such dangerous levels of conflict as those experienced in 2002.

This is an analysis of the electoral scenario from the perspective of a democratic model. We know it is not applicable to the Venezuelan Case. The dimension of the RR for Venezuelans is that, lacking an electoral solution of the crisis, a regime like Fidel Castro’s –already lasting 45 years- shall be consolidated or the country wrecks in anarchy and violence.

Democracy and Development is published by Venezuela Today, www.venezuelatoday.org. Its President - Dr. Pedro Pablo Aguilar is a former President of the Venezuelan National Congress.



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