Five former Latin American Presidents arrived in Venezuela on Saturday to act as observers to a voluntary vote called by the National Assembly on a constitutional rewrite being forced through by the Maduro government without consulting the population.
The opposition in the nation of 31 million believes that the "great majority" of Venezuelans do not back President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to scrap the Constitution, according to the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).
"We believe in unity, in development and in opportunities,” said Enzo Betancourt. The people want to “rebuild” the country, emphasized the head of the Venezuelan Association of Engineers (CIV) at MUD headquarters Friday.
On July 5th, Venezuela’s Independence Day, the National Assembly agreed unanimously to take a poll of the “popular” will. The vote — under the banner “The People Decide” — takes place two-weeks before the president’s July 30th election of delegates to a National Constituent Assembly (ANC).
The Maduro administration claims that this initiative by the National Assembly (AN) is in “utter disregard” of state institutions and laws. It is “nonexistent” in the Constitution, and therefore “unconstitutional”, the Maduro government claims.
The president stressed this week that the “road ahead for peace is already mapped out” through the ANC. The 545 delegates will “perfect and expand” the 1999 Constitution.
The ANC “constitutes Maduro's pivot from being on the defensive during the spring rebellion set off by the self-coup of March 29-31,” said Dr. Michael McCarthy, a Research Fellow at American University's Center for Latin American Studies.
Venezuela’s president is “trying to move to the offensive of promoting a political agenda,” McCarthy told the Latin American Herald Tribune (LAHT), “that gives him some added discretion for tinkering with the rules.”
In 2015, the MUD’s umbrella coalition won 112 seats out of 167 of the AN. Government moves late in March — through the Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ), which the government had packed with loyalists — to annul the legislature’s powers escalated the political crisis.
As a result, protests have been non-stop for over 100 days. The opposition’s ranks span all social classes. The death toll number has reached 115 with the wounded in the thousands.
The ANC provides Maduro “an institutional basis for narrowing political space, bringing Venezuela a step closer to a closed political system,” said McCarthy.
One key bill the president intends to propose, reported AVN, would give the Commission for Truth, Justice and Peace “plenipotentiary powers” to “prosecute and establish the truth of all the crimes that have been committed during the violent riots in 2017.”
The ANC is “madness,” Betancourt insisted. The spokesperson for the country’s professional guilds urged citizens “in” and “out” of Venezuela to vote on Sunday.
‘BINDING’ FOR WHOM?
The government argues that the National Electoral Council (CNE) is the “only power which can organize” elections.
"The opposition has called for an internal consultation of the MUD, it has called for an internal consultation of the opposition parties, with their own mechanisms without election cards, without fingerprint capturing, without previous or post audits, very well," says President Nicolas Maduro. "They are autonomous. They decide for their side. Each political party can decided to call for an election and do internal consultations when it wants. If it wants it to be legal they have to call the election with the power of the electoral power according to the law."
José Ignacio Hernández, a law professor at both the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello and the Universidad Central de Venezuela, disagrees.
Article 5 of the Constitution states that “sovereignty resides in the people,” noted Hernández. In addition, Articles 62, 70, 127 and 187 back the AN’s power to “consult” the people on decisions of national interest.
Sunday’s ballot “will be binding” for the National Assembly, of course. They are the ones asking how the legislature should “exercise its powers within Article 333 of the Constitution,” wrote Hernández in an article for ProDavinci.
CITIZENS WILL ANSWER “YES” or “NO” TO 3 QUESTIONS:
Do you reject and not recognize the realization of the constituent which has been proposed by Nicolás Maduro without the prior approval of the people of Venezuela?
Do you demand that the National Armed Forces and all public officials obey and defend the Constitution of 1999 and support the decisions of the National Assembly?
Do you approve the restoration of Public Powers, the formation of a National Unity Government and the holding of free and transparent elections to restore constitutional order?
For Maduro and his Administration, the Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ), and the CNE, Sunday’s results “will certainly not be binding,” noted Hernández. “For these bodies, not even the Constitution is binding,” he added.
Poverty, unrest, impunity, corruption, and widespread shortages now define what had once been one of the richest countries in Latin America. Maduro's foes argue that his plans to rewrite the Constitution will do nothing to solve these problems.
The ANC “is not following the consult then convoke sequence,” said McCarthy. This has “created tensions within Chavismo.”
And those tensions have caused some fractures in the once united Chavismo front.
Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz -- once a stalwart loyalist who began expressing her disagreement with the authoritarian direction of the Maduro regime beginning in March -- has been banned from leaving the country and her assets have been frozen after her petitions to stop the ANC have come short. In office for over a decade, the attorney general is facing “ethics and moral” accusations by leaders in the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) party.
She became an especially thorny dissenter when she began insisting that a constituent was illegal without a referendum first. Democracy in Venezuela is “severely threatened” when presidential degrees override legal requirements, she argued.
Eighty-five percent of those surveyed see a rewrite of the constitution as “unnecessary,” according to the Caracas polling firm Datanalisis.
The timing between these votes is “curious,” said José Antonio Gil Yepez, a founding partner at Datanalisis. Within two weeks Venezuela will have a direct measure from each side of a very “polarized” society. The opposition numbers should fall between 4.5 and 8.935 million votes, whereas the government’s range is between 1.5 and 4.3 million votes, he told the LAHT in an interview on Friday.
Fear will increase abstention rates for the opposition, but for the government it will be an asset, he noted. The results from both “most likely” will fuel a “war” of perception, said Gil Yepez.
Recently, PSUV Vice President Diosdado Cabello said on the state-run VTV television station "even if only one, two or three vote,” in the ANC “it's still an election.” The opposition will only “squawk.”
Sunday’s vote “will not stop” the ANC, said McCarthy. However, it must take place “to continue raising the cost for the government” to pursue their “highly controversial initiative.”
Five former Latin American presidents arrived on Saturday to act as observers Sunday in Venezuela. Mexico’s Vicente Fox; Colombia’s Andrés Pastrana; Bolivia’s Jorge Quiroga; and from Costa Rica, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez and Laura Chinchilla; all accepted National Assembly President Julio Borges’s invitation.