Caracas, May 2, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro officially called for a National Constituent Assembly to be convened this May Day, in a bid to bring an end to the political crisis between the national government and the opposition-held parliament.
Speaking to the hundreds of thousands of government supporters that took to the streets of the nation’s capital for International Workers’ Day 2017, Maduro explained that he would invoke article 347 of the constitution to trigger the assembly, which will be responsible for re-drafting the 1999 Constitution.
“I convoke the original constituent power, a national constituent assembly with the people, with the working class! It is time and it is the path forward… They [the opposition] have left us with no alternatives,” he said.
“I invoke the original constituent power to achieve the peace necessary for the Republic, to defeat the fascist attempts at a coup, so that the sovereignty of the people may impose peace, harmony, and true national dialogue,” he continued.
The president explained that there are nine areas in which the assembly will work to reorient the current Constitution, such as incorporating the social programs of the Chavez and Maduro governments as well as the communal councils and communes as new expressions of local government into the Magna Carta. He also said that orientations towards building a “post-petroleum” economy in Venezuela and stopping climate change should be institutionalized. In statements to the crowd, the head of state promised that the assembly would be one of the “people, workers, feminists, communards, campesinos and young people”.
It is the first time that a constituent assembly has been convened since the 1999 Constitution was approved by referendum, and there is little information on carrying out the procedure in the Constitution.
Nonetheless, the government has confirmed that the assembly will be made up of some 500 directly elected delegates, 250 of whom will be elected from among the country’s social movements. The president has also designated a constitutional commission to organize the process, which includes veteran Chavistas such as Education Minister Elias Jaua, constitutional lawyer Herman Escarra, and indigenous Wayuu activist Noheli Pocoterra, who were all involved in drafting the previous constitution.
According to statements made to state media by Escarra, the aim of the constituent assembly is not to totally redraft the 1999 Constitution but to “transform the state”. He suggested that the priority of the assembly would be to safeguard the gains of the revolution over the past 18 years.
“We were naive when we originally drafted the 1999 constitution… We didn’t know it would be attacked the way it has been,” he said.
The convening of the national assembly has become a trending topic on Twitter under the hashtag “ConstituentForPeace,” presumably amongst government supporters.
Since December 2015, Venezuela has witnessed a stand-off between the Maduro government and the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which swore to use its mandate to remove the government from power. Since then, opposition legislators have consistently tried to pass legislation that has been thrown out by the Supreme Court for violating the Constitution.
Tensions came to a head at the beginning of April over another Supreme Court ruling against the National Assembly, leading to violent opposition protests in the streets. The unrest has claimed the lives of 32 people to date and shows no signs of subsiding.
Opposition leaders have so far refused to enter into national dialogue with the government to bring about a peaceful solution to the deadlock – despite recent encouragement from the Pope. Vatican-mediated talks came to a stalemate last year after opposition leaders walked out, and the opposition is currently demanding snap general elections at least a year ahead of schedule. It is also pushing for the purging of pro-government officials from the Supreme Court and National Electoral Council.
Responding to Maduro’s message to convoke the constitutional assembly as a way out of the impasse on Monday night, opposition leaders described the move as a “coup” and a “fraud” and called on their supporters to block streets and motorways in protest.
“Attention: the great blockade was accomplished today! We call on all of Venezuela to mobilize tomorrow against the constituent fraud of Maduro. All 24 states!,” tweeted National Assembly Vice-President Freddy Guevara Tuesday afternoon.
Atencion: cumplido el trancazo hoy, convocamos a toda Vzla a movilizarnos contra el fraude constituyente de Maduro. Los 24 estados!
— Freddy Guevara (@FreddyGuevaraC) May 2, 2017
Despite his staunch rejection of the president's proposal, the Popular Will party leader had actually advocated for a constituent assembly "to change all of the public powers" in 2014.
The current head of the National Assembly and member of First Justice, Julio Borges, also echoed Guevara’s demands. He charged the government with using the constituent assembly as a pretext to avoid the general elections that the opposition is pushing for.
“Let it be clear to the world, let it be clear to the Venezuelan people, what was announced today is not a constituent assembly, do not be fooled. It is not a constituent assembly, but a ruse to trick the Venezuelan people through a mechanism that will do nothing more than aggravate the state coup in Venezuela and seeking through the Constitution, to destroy the very Constitution, democracy and the vote,” he said in a press conference on Monday night.
“What has happened today, and I say this without exaggerations… is the most serious coup d’etat to have taken place in the history of Venezuela… the Democratic Unity Roundtable and opposition legislators call on the people to rebel against it!” he told reporters.