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Venezuela Sets Date for Constituent Assembly Elections

Puebla, Mexico, June 8, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s electoral authority formally set a date for constituent assembly elections Wednesday, as the country’s highest court dismissed a challenge to the process to draft a new constitution for the South American nation. 

Once formed, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) will have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. The assembly itself will be comprised of elected delegates, who will be chosen based on their municipalities as well as social sectors, including workers, students, indigenous people, among others. These elections will take place on July 30, according to the head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena. Originally, the CNE had planned to hold two rounds of elections – one for candidates elected based on their municipality and another for sectoral candidates.

“We had considered [holding] them separately, but yesterday we arrived at a single date … and that date is July 30,” Lucena said.

Lucena also announced a handful of technical changes, including a minor shuffle of sectoral subsections. She also announced there will be seats for eight indigenous delegates.

Campaigning will begin July 9.

The new timetable has been welcomed by President Nicolas Maduro, who called the ANC in May. Maduro has said the assembly could help Venezuela overcome its deep political divide and rejuvenate the nearly two decade old socialist revolution begun under his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

“The constituent [assembly] has … the power to transform, to power to create, to give more power to the people … [and] to end and confront the bureaucracy and … corruption,” he said.

Maduro’s supporters have responded by rallying Thursday in Caracas to endorse the ANC.

The opposition has largely condemned the ANC, with some accusing Maduro of calling the assembly to change electoral laws ahead of the 2018 presidential race.

The ANC has also sparked controversy within the Venezuelan government. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court (TSJ) threw out a legal challenge against the ANC from Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz.

Ortega filed the challenge late last week, calling for the TSJ to “clarify” a previous ruling that determined Maduro was constitutionally empowered to call the ANC without previously convening a consultative referendum. When the last constituent assembly was called in 1999, it was preceded by a referendum. Maduro has argued such a referendum isn’t necessary this time, pointing to constitutional changes made by the 1999 ANC.

However, in her challenge, Ortega questioned whether Maduro had undermined the constitution’s spirit of participatory democracy.

The TSJ has now responded by ruling the challenge inadmissible, stating Ortega has no legal standing as attorney general to appeal the court’s previous decision.

According to the high court, Ortega "was not a party to the original appeal", and as a state official she cannot "invoke the general interest" since her appeal does not constitute a "popular action". 

The ruling ended the last legal challenge facing the ANC, though the planned assembly is still facing criticism from within the CNE. Just hours after the CNE announced its electoral timetable, one of the electoral authority’s top officials condemned the decision.

Rector Emilio Rondon, who represents the opposition in the body, echoed Ortega’s complaints, accusing the CNE of acting “without the sovereignty of the people, without their participation and protagonism”.

“It is an abuse on the part of the [CNE] to ignore the people, so I do not agree with the decisions that have been taken,” he said.

Published on Jun 8th 2017 at 1.24pm