Caracas, October 22, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)-
In marathon sessions, often lasting until nearly midnight, Venezuela's
National Assembly has approved 30 out of 60 constitutional articles targeted
for modification. The most recent changes, which will be submitted to a
nationwide referendum on December 2nd, include one of the most
controversial articles, which would extend the president's term from six to
seven years and would allow him to be reelected an indefinite number of times.
Last august 15th, President Chavez presented a
proposal to modify 33 articles of Venezuela's
constitution, with the argument that these changes are necessary to bring about
21st century socialism in Venezuela. The president's proposal
was then discussed in forums throughout Venezuela during the month of
September and the first half of October.
Then, beginning last on October 15, the National Assembly
(AN) initiated its third and final discussion of the reform proposal,
recommending the addition of 25 more articles to be reformed and making a wide
variety of changes to the president's original text. In the course of the
discussions two more articles were added, so that the total number of articles
to be modified reached 60 as of Friday last week.
Until now, the AN has approved nearly all the changes
proposed by its constitutional reform commission without changes.
Aside from the change to the presidential term (article 230),
the AN also approved of changes that would provide communal councils with 5% of
the nation's budget (art. 167). Also, the change to article 184 more clearly
defines the functioning of communal councils.
Articles that had already been approved earlier last week
include the prohibition against discrimination based on health or sexual
orientation (art. 21), the lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16 (art. 64),
a requirement for gender parity in candidatures for public office (art. 67),
the toughening of requirements for initiating popular referenda (art. 71-74),
the right to not having one's primary residency expropriated (art. 82), the
creation of a social security fund for the self-employed (art. 87), the
reduction of the workweek from 44 to 36 hours per week (art. 90), the
protection of Afro-Venezuelan culture, in addition to indigenous and European
culture (art. 100), stronger self-management rights for university students
(art. 109), and new forms of social and collective property (art. 115).
The AN plans to continue its article-by-article discussion
of the constitutional reform until the end of October, at which point a
national referendum will be organized to vote on the reform.
Other articles to be discussed and voted upon in the course
of this week include an expansion of the president's powers (art. 236), to
allow him to revise political boundaries of municipalities and to name second
vice-presidents, among other things. Other changes would include a prohibition against
privatizing subsidiaries of the country's state oil company PDVSA (art. 303),
the removal of central bank independence (art. 318), the transformation of the
country's military reserve force into a "popular militia" (art. 320) and the
strengthening of the president's state of emergency powers (art. 347).
One of the Chavez government's coalition partners, the
social democratic party Podemos, has objected to the AN's inclusion of new
articles besides the ones first proposed by the President, arguing that these
articles have not had time to be discussed in public, since they were added
only shortly before the third and final discussion. It has taken its objection
to the country's Supreme Court with the argument that the move is