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Published On: Wed, May 17th, 2017

Venezuela: Constitutional Changes to Be Put to Referendum

Rachel Boothroyd-Rojas (VA) : Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Hermann Escarra has confirmed that any changes made to the country’s Magna Carta by the national constituent assembly (ANC) will have to be approved by referendum. 

Constitutional lawyer Hermann Escarra announced that any new Constitution would have to approved by voters. (Globovision)

Constitutional lawyer Hermann Escarra announced that any new Constitution would have to approved by voters. (Globovision)

Speaking in a televised interview with TV channel Globovision Monday, Escarra dismissed rumors circulated over the last two weeks that the government would attempt to push through changes to the country’s constitution without going to the polls.

“The only competency of this national assembly is to write a Constitution, that means that there are multiple procedures which, at the end of the day, have to be concluded via a direct vote from the Venezuelan people,” said Escarra.

“Article 347 says, amongst other things, that a new constitution can be written. It doesn’t say that it will be approved. For this reason, you have to ask yourself, is the [national constituent] assembly going to approve it? The same [constitutional] norm tells you that it has to go to the sovereign [power],” he explained.

The constitutional lawyer was nominated by Maduro as a delegate to the presidential constituent commission tasked with overseeing the process of re-writing the country’s 1999 constitution.

The decision to convene the ANC was announced by the Venezuelan president on May Day in a bid to bring about a political solution to an ongoing stand-off between the national government and the opposition, which has led to violent protests over the past six weeks and forty-nine deaths.

“The fundamental objective of the constituent process is the search for peace, because all dialogue scenarios have been exhausted. Here what it’s about are intermediaries who are not decided by the government nor the opposition, but rather the people of Venezuela, through a universal, direct and secret vote who are going…to debate,” he added.

Since the move was announced, speculation has run riot that the Maduro administration planned to approve the changes unilaterally. The head of state has also come under fire for convoking the ANC without an initial referendum, with the opposition labelling the decision a “fraud”.

Nonetheless, Escarra, who played a key role in drafting the 1999 Constitution, confirmed that the text did not require an initial plebiscite in order to begin the controversial re-draft.

According to the lawyer, the process can be triggered via “four initiatives: in first place by 15% of the people, in second place by two thirds of municipalities in open lobbies, then by two thirds of the members of the National Assembly, and by the president in a ministerial council”.

“Whichever of these had taken the initiative to convoke [the ANC], a referendum would not have needed to be put forward,” he concluded.

The ANC will be made up of 250 elected delegates from “territorial” political constituencies and a further 250 “sectorial” representatives elected from amongst eight different national constituencies. These delegates will come from organizations of workers, students, pensioners, indigenous peoples, disabled peoples, as well as from national business confederations.

Escarra’s announcement comes less than three days after President Maduro confirmed that the country will still go to general elections in 2018 in spite of the constitutional re-draft. The opposition has accused the president in recent weeks of using the ANC as a way of bypassing general elections.

“You know that in 2018, in the presidential elections, we are going to give them a beating, because in 2018 come rain, thunder or lightning, in Venezuela there will be presidential elections,” said Maduro.

Venezuela’s main opposition grouping, the MUD, has yet to officially respond to the president’s announcement. Since April 4, the opposition has called on its supporters to take to the streets indefinitely to push for general elections be held over a year ahead of schedule, among other demands. The right-wing coalition have also announced that they plan to boycott the process to re-write the constitution in spite of a government invitation to participate.

Rachel Boothroyd-Rojas, Venezuelanalysis

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