Venezuelan Opposition Invited to National Assembly to Debate Constitutional Reform

Leaders from Venezuelan opposition parties Democratic Action (AD), Movement towards Socialism (MAS) and Justice First, were received in the Venezuelan National Assembly yesterday to present their views on President Hugo Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms.

Caracas, September 11, 2007 ( – Leaders from Venezuelan opposition parties Democratic Action (AD), Movement towards Socialism (MAS) and Justice First, were received in the Venezuelan National Assembly yesterday to present their views on President Hugo Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms.

Secretary General of the opposition party Acción Democrática (Democratic Action), Henry Ramos Allup, said that he did not have a counter proposal, but would give a critical opinion. Questioning the changes that would define Venezuela as a “socialist” country, he argued that this would “kill pluralism” and said he was also opposed to any changes to the structure of the military.

Julio Borges from Justice First said he was concerned about changes that would recognize along with private property other forms of property such as, collective, communal, and social property and argued in particular that it should be clarified that private property is a “right.”

In reference to proposed changes to article 16, which Chavez has said will produce a “new geometry of power,” aimed at transferring power to the people, Nicolas Sosa from MAS argued, "The deepest worry than we have is that the proposal disposes itself toward the creation of a parallel state.” Borges agreed and said that the expenditure of public funds should be administered by the currently existing public institutions.

The three opposition leaders were united in their rejection of the proposal that would allow Chavez to stand for reelection in 2012, when his current term ends. However, in a televised debate later that day between pro-Chavez deputy Carlos Escarrá and Borges, on state owned channel VTV, Escarrá argued that the opposition is opposed to this change simply because they don't have a candidate with as much popular support as Chavez.

Although the opposition parties are united against the reforms, they are divided as to what strategy to adopt, with some arguing for a boycott and others arguing for a “no” vote. Due to an opposition boycott of the parliamentary elections in December 2005, candidates from various pro-Chavez parties won all of the seats in the National Assembly, meaning that it is likely that the constitutional reforms will easily win the approval of the minimum 75% of National Assembly deputies required before they can be put to a referendum.

During the debate with Escarrá, Borges said, “I believe that the boycott of those elections was an extraordinarily gigantic error, I was opposed to this, the country knows it, I went to vote, it seems absurd that after having made that gesture [the boycott], they go to speak there.”

He argued that unlike Justice First, the decision of opposition political parties AD and MAS to speak in the National Assembly was contradictory in view of their support for the boycott of the parliamentary elections in 2005. Borges added that Justice First would be participating in the referendum and arguing for the reforms to be voted on “article by article,” so that people can choose those sections of the proposal they support and those they don't, for instance he argued, he supported the proposal to reduce the working day to six hours.

However, Allup said to Union Radio that his decision to speak in the National Assembly did not mean he recognized the legitimacy of the government and defended the opposition boycott in 2005, arguing “there is a sector [of the opposition] that is being obsequious to the government.”

Allup said that AD would assume a critical position towards the proposed constitutional reforms, but would not call for abstention or participation in the constitutional referendum. Rather, he said people should decide for themselves whether to abstain or vote. Allup explained that if AD took a decision in favor or against abstention, there would be sectors of the opposition that would disagree, and “that would do a lot of damage to the necessary unity of the opposition.”

National Assembly president Cilia Flores assured, “We listened to the views they formulated” and said that they would be taken into account, “jointly with other proposals of the different sectors of the country, to serve us for the debate on the project of reform." However, she added that the opposition leaders “obey a vision of the country that we respect but do not share.”

Flores affirmed that the National Assembly would raise with Chavez the proposal to include two further changes to the project of constitutional reform, one which would lower the voting age from 18years to 16 years and the second which would remove any discrimination against homosexuality in the constitution. This proposal, she said, was “viable because it was oriented towards removing discrimination and was a fundamental right in Venezuela or any other part of the world.”

Escarrá declared that the National Assembly had shown a “broad and deep, democratic essence” during the debate over the constitutional reform. "All sectors have been received, in the plenary sessions space for students, campesinos, have been opened,” he said.

"The deputies have been in open forums in the streets, reporting on the Constitutional Reform," he added.