Venezuelan Opposition Calls for “Broad Front” Against Constitutional Reform

Venezuelan opposition figures have called for the formation of a “broad front” to reject the plans to modify Venezuela’s Constitution of 1999. As the reforms have not yet been presented to the National Assembly, the exact content remains unclear, however.

Caracas, July 28, 2007 (— Venezuelan opposition figures have called for the formation of a “broad front” to reject the plans to modify Venezuela’s Constitution of 1999. Venezuelan opposition parties that support the idea including, Allianza Bravo Peublo, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Acción Democrática, Copei, Primero Justicia, Vamos , and the Movimiento al Socialismo participated in a forum hosted by Union Radio, a Caracas radio station on July 26th. Rafael Simon Jimenez from Vamos said, “It is necessary to create a broad front that includes sectors of Chavismo [Chavez supporters] to reject the imperial presidency. No to reelection!”

The Venezuelan opposition, which has largely been pursuing a constitutional strategy since the defeat of the US backed military coup in April 2002 and the oil industry lockout in Dec 2002-Jan 2003, has attempted unity projects before, notably the attempt to find a unity candidate for the presidential elections in 2006. A leaders of the former governing party Acción Democrática (AD), which boycotted that election, described the effort as “drunks fighting over and empty bottle.”

However, much of the opposition remains extremely discredited in the eyes of most Chavez opponents because of its repeated failures to oust Chavez over the past eight years, such as with the coup attempt of 2002 and the oil industry shutdown of 2003. Using the language of human rights and democracy, the opposition is now opposing changes to a constitution it once tried to overturn. None of the pro-Chavez aligned parties have agreed to become part of the opposition’s “broad front.”

As the reforms have not yet been presented to the National Assembly, the exact content remains unclear, however, much of the speculation has centered around the possible removal of the two-term limit for someone to hold the office of president, which would allow Chavez to run again in 2012.

Victor Bolivar, president of AD , which, along with Copei, governed the country in a power-sharing deal known as the pact of Punto Fijo for 40 years, said, the proposed reforms represent “a substantial modification of Venezuelan democracy”

“Fundamental democratic principles would be damaged, such as alternation of power, freedom of expression, free education, university autonomy, even the institution of the Armed Forces,” he continued.

Bolivar also said that the “broad front “represents the “white team” – a reference to the recent student demonstrations fomented by opposition political parties against the decision to revoke the public broadcast license of RCTV, and anti-crime demonstrations, in which the majority of the participants wore white, a campaign similar to other US-backed ‘colored’ revolutions, such as the ‘Orange revolution’ in the Ukraine.

Alfonso Maquina from Un Nuevo Tiempo argued, “This is a reform that is going to satisfy the vanity, the ego of whoever has the exercise of power, the orientation is towards indefinite reelection and concentration of powers in the President.”

Speaking on Venezuelan TV program Open Dialogue last Thursday, Venezuelan vice-president Jorge Rodriguez replied to the opposition, saying, “How can the opposition criticize something they haven’t even seen?”

Rodriguez said that their opposition to extending presidential term limits implied a tacit “recognition that Chavez would win all the elections.”

“The constitutional reforms are going to promote fairness, equality and justice” he added.

A July 27 article in the pro-Chavez Venezuelan weekly Temas argued that the opposition has been simplistic and irresponsible by implying that what is being proposed is the “eternalization” of the Chavez presidency. It argued that no one is being obliged to reelect Chavez, rather it is about giving people a choice.

Chavez has reaffirmed numerous times that any changes to the constitution would have to be ratified through a popular referendum, “the majority will decide if they approve reelection in the constitutional reform,” he said.

Though he said from his perspective, “The president should be elected however many times the people want.”

Although Chavez recognized the power of the National Assembly to modify the text of the reforms, he said he hopes they retain the sentiment and essence of his proposal.

While much of the debate has focused on the issue of extending presidential term limits, Chavez declared, “The most important aspect of the constitutional reform is not reelection, but rather the inclusion of Popular Power, that doesn’t exist in the current constitution. This is one of the most essential proposals of the reform to commence a new era.”

During the inauguration of the new Center for Integral Socialist Technical Production in the state of Trujillo on the 26th of July, Chavez called for the creation of a sixth power: Popular Power, to be vested in the new constitution as one of the “public powers” of the state, along with the existing five powers, the Executive, Judicial, Legislative, Citizen and Electoral powers.

Chavez has also called for reforms in the economic sphere to assure the transformation to a socialist economy; however, he has said that Bolivarian socialism is not opposed to private property as long as it complies with Venezuelan laws.

The reforms are required to be debated over three sessions and approved by the National Assembly before being put to a popular vote, which is likely to take place later this year.