Opinion and Analysis: Law and Justice
The Referendum in Venezuela : Explanatory Notes on Article 72 of the Constitution
Article 72 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela states:
All popularly-elected officials and magistrates terms of office are subject to revocation. During the midway point of the term for which the functionary was elected, a number no less than twenty per cent of the registered voters can solicit the convocation of a referendum to revoke his/her mandate.
When a number equal or greater than the number of registered voters that elected the functionary have voted in favor of the revocation, and always assuring that a number equal to or greater than twenty-five percent of registered voters voted in the referendum, the functionary’s mandate will be considered revoked and the process will begin to fulfill the position immediately according to and conforming with all available means in this Constitution and in the Laws.
The revocation of a functionary will be conducted in accordance with established laws.
During the term for which a functionary was elected, no more than one petition for his/her revocation can be made.
On May 29, 2003, the Venezuelan government and the representatives of the Coordinadora Dem-cratica, an opposition umbrella organization, signed an agreement accepting the idea of a referendum on President Chávez?s mandate as permitted by Article 72 of the Venezuelan Constitution. The Venezuelan and international media have misinterpreted the Article 72 referendum to their advantage, making it appear as though the Venezuelan government plays a role in the referendum, and as such, will try to impede its attainment. This is false.
The Article 72 referendum is entirely an initiative of the voting public in Venezuela. Article 72 has two (2) separate requirements, both of which much be fulfilled in order for a referendum on an official term to be valid.
Its requirements can be summarized as follows:
STEP 1: The first clause of Article 72 specifies that 20% of registered voters must solicit the convening of a referendum before the actual referendum can occur. The registered voters soliciting such a referendum must adhere to all established laws for valid
petitions, and the signatures must be counted and verified by the National Elections Council in order to determine whether or not the actual referendum will take place.
STEP 2: In the event that the Step 2 requirement is met, the referendum vote will occur. In order for it to be successful, the following two requirements must be met:
a. An equal or greater number of voters that elected the functionary, in
this case the President, must vote for the revocation of his mandate; AND
b. At least 25% of registered voters must participate in the referendum.
All votes will be verified and counted by the National Elections Council before a determination is made on the outcome of the referendum.
Please note that the Venezuelan government does not play any role in the convening or determination of the referendum. It is a process initiated entirely by the registered voters in Venezuela, and all Constitutional requirements must be met in order for the referendum to be valid. Due to the gravity of the potential outcome of an Article 72 referendum, i.e. cutting short the term of office of an elected official or magistrate, it is necessary to place safeguard provisions within the Article itself, which explains why the process contains two (2) steps, which must both be met and verified in accordance with established laws.
The date set forth for the commencement of Step 1 of the Article 72 referendum is August 19, 2003. However, before any signatures that result from a petition conducted on this date can be counted and verified, new members must be appointed to the National Elections Council in Venezuela. The delay of such appointments will delay any determination of whether or not the amount of signatures necessary per Article 72 was obtained so that the referendum will proceed. The Venezuelan legislature is currently in the process of appointing these new members, but due to the divisions in party lines in the legislature, such appointments could take some time.
What is the Opposition Doing Now to Sabotage the Referendum and Destabilize Venezuela?
The Opposition is proposing to hold a major Firmazo (signing) on August 19, 2003, the supposed half-way point of President Chavez's term; The Opposition has manipulated their supporters into believing that the actual referendum occurs on August 19, and not just the first part of the process which determines if the constitutionally required number of voters petitions for the referendum;
Because of this, the Opposition plans to initiate a new civil resistance strategy on August 20, 2003, since they already know that the referendum will not have occurred by this date of course, it would be impossible!
But, they are manipulating the rules of the referendum and deceiving their supporters into believing that the government will sabotage the referendum and that is why it will not have passed by August 20, one day after the signatures are taken and before they can
even be officially counted!
The opposition will begin to again claim that the Venezuelan government is not constitutional, because they did not permit the referendum despite the fact that it is the opposition who is manipulating the concept of the referendum;
They will begin to initiate a new media campaign on a national and international level, claiming the Venezuelan government is unconstitutional and undemocratic because it did not allow the referendum, and could potentially call for international intervention from the U.S. and the OAS.
They may try to invoke the Democratic Charter, and OAS Instrument that allows member states of the OAS to intervene militarily into another member state if that state’s government is undemocratic in order to restore constitutional order.
NOTE: the Charter was first invoked on April 11, 2002 when the opposition lead a coup d’etat in Venezuela which briefly ousted President Chávez. In that case, constitutional order had truly been disrupted; The Opposition is forming close ties with the Colombian government and Colombian paramilitary forces, and is planning on the U.S.-led Plan Colombia to spill over into Venezuela. They are trying to spread rumors about the Venezuelan government harboring terrorists, FARC guerrillas and members of Al-Qaeda; They could elaborate massive media campaigns, including Pais Que Queremos? (The Country We Want), which will manipulate and distort information about the Venezuelan government, with the intention of destabilizing and creating a climate of violence and aggression similar to that proceeding the coup in April 2002; They will again try to create enough civil unrest and destabilization to justify a military coup, with the hopes this time it will be successful.
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