National Assembly Concludes Revision of Constitutional Reform Proposal

On Tuesday Venezuela's
legislature, the National Assembly, approved the last articles for the constitutional
reform project. A group of leaders and supporters of the opposition party
Justice First attempted to enter the National Assembly just as the debate was
about to begin, but were prohibited because they did not register with the
Assembly the previous day.

By Gregory Wilpert – Venezuelanalysis.com

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Leaders and supporters of the opposition party Justice First protested outside the National Assembly on Tuesday, demanding to be let inside for the debate on the consitutional reform (Gregory Wilpert)
Leaders and supporters of the opposition party Justice First protested outside the National Assembly on Tuesday, demanding to be let inside for the debate on the consitutional reform (Gregory Wilpert)
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Caracas, (venezuelanalysis.com)-
On Tuesday Venezuela's
legislature, the National Assembly, approved the last articles for the constitutional
reform project. A group of leaders and supporters of the opposition party
Justice First attempted to enter the National Assembly just as the debate was
about to begin, but were prohibited because they did not register with the
Assembly the previous day.

The original reform proposal, which President Hugo Chavez
first submitted last August, encompassed changes to 33 articles of Venezuela's
1999 constitution. Following committee discussions, another 25 articles were
added to the reform and then, in the course of the full National Assembly
debates, another 11 changes were introduced, for a total of 69 articles out of
the constitution's 350.

Yesterday, after a relatively short debate, the National
Assembly (AN) approved 15 transitional dispositions, which lay out how some of
the changes to the constitution would take effect, once approved by the
electorate in a nation-wide referendum. Many of these transitional provisions
involve how constitutional requirements should be handled until there are
corresponding laws to regulate these.

For example, the first transitional provision discussed
yesterday involved how indigenous representatives are to be elected to the AN,
until there is a law governing this process. Venezuela's
1999 constitution allows for three representatives from Venezuela's
indigenous tribes.

Another transitional provision stipulates that the AN must
pass 15 laws that result from the constitution, known as "organic laws." These
include a law on popular power, which governs the communal councils, a law for
the promotion of a socialist economy, a new law for the territorial
organization of the country, a new labor law that takes into account the
reduction of the workweek to 36 hours per week, and a new education law, among
others.

The AN also introduced a new transitional disposition that
states that until there is a law for the establishment of a socialist economy,
the president has the power to issue decrees "to regulate the transition to a
model of the socialist economy."

Addressing one of the more controversial changes to the
constitution, transitional provision 15 states that the newly extended
presidential term of seven years does not apply until the completion of the
president's current term in office, in 2013.

Main Changes to the
1999 Constitution

Among the most important changes to the 1999 constitution
that the President and the National Assembly are the following:

  • An
    extension of the presidential term from six to seven years and the
    elimination of the two-term limit on presidential election.
  • Voting
    age lowered from 18 to 16 years
  • Prohibition
    of foreign funding of political activity in Venezuela
  • Gender
    parity in the setting up of candidates for public office
  • Guaranteed
    free university education
  • Prohibition
    of discrimination based on sexual orientation
  • 36-hour
    workweek
  • Social
    security for self-employed
  • Guaranteed
    funding for communal councils
  • Non-independence
    of the central bank
  • Toughening
    of requirements for citizen-initiated referenda

Also, the AN proposed to modify the existing provisions for
the declaration of states of emergency, so that the right to information would
no longer be guaranteed, with the argument that the abuse of the right to
information is what made the 2002 coup attempt possible with the cooperation of
the oppositional private media. Originally the AN had also removed the right to
due process during states of emergency, but numerous protests against this
change, including from the country's Attorney General and the Human Rights
Defender caused the AN to reinstate this right.

Next Steps

The National Assembly leadership announced that there will
be one more reading of all of the 69 articles included in the reform on Friday,
when it will pass all of them in a final two-thirds majority vote, as required
by the constitution. Since opposition parties boycotted the 2005 AN elections,
all representatives in the AN are Chavez supporters and are thus expected to
vote in favor of the reform.

One party in the Chavez coalition, Podemos, has dissented
from the process, with the argument that the AN is violating the constitution
by incorporating changes to the reform that were not part of the president's
original proposal and were thus not part of the previous two discussions of the
AN. Podemos representatives have submitted a challenge to the process in the
country's Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the matter.

Once the final version is approved, the proposal will
then be submitted to a nation-wide referendum within 30 days, which the
National Electoral Council has so far scheduled for December 2nd.