Signature Collection for Constitutional Amendment Begins

The first discussion of the amendment to the Venezuelan constitution to
eliminate the two-term limit on holding presidential office will take
place in the National Assembly on December 18. Meanwhile, the United
Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will begin collecting signatures in
support of the amendment today.

By Tamara Pearson - Venezuelanalysis.com

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PSUV members collect signatures in favor of a constitutional amendment to eliminate the two-term limit on the presidency. (YVKE)
PSUV members collect signatures in favor of a constitutional amendment to eliminate the two-term limit on the presidency. (YVKE)
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Mérida, December 11, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)-- The first discussion of the amendment to the Venezuelan constitution to eliminate the two-term limit on holding presidential office will take place in the National Assembly on December 18 and the second and final discussion will take place January 5, 2009. Meanwhile, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will begin collecting signatures in support of the amendment today.

Should the National Assembly approve the amendment, the National Electoral Council (CNE) will have 30 days to call a vote. Specifically, the proposed amendment will modify article 230 of the constitution of the Venezuelan Republic to eliminate the two term limit any individual may hold the office of the president. The current article says, "The presidential period is for 6 years. The president (male or female) can be re-elected immediately and once only, to an additional term." The modified article would delete, "immediately and once only."

Beginning today, the PSUV will initiate a special week to propel the proposal for amending the constitution. The week will end next Thursday, when the party will hand in a list of popular support for the proposal to the National Assembly, as it begins its discussion. Party branches and "citizen patrols" will be collecting signatures from party members and from various red tents distributed across the country.

The president of the Bolivarian Federation of Students, Carlos Sierra, informed the press that organized brigades of students of law and history would be explaining the essence of the amendment across the country. They will also be organizing youth events to promote the amendment, and having a presence in all the main plazas, collecting signatures.

Jesse Chacon, the newly appointed minister for communication and information, said that the approval of the amendment would open doors to a better constitution, which gives the people the power to "elect who they want, how they want, when they want, for the amount of time they want."

He emphasized that the proposal is not illegal as the private media in Venezuela have been saying. He made a tally of the news coverage by two main dailies, El National and El Universal, which both had about double the amount of negative news items about the amendment, than positive. He pointed out that the opposition had been quoting Simon Bolivar, Venezuelan liberator, as saying that one person shouldn't rule for a long time, but "what Bolivar said was that no one can govern for a long time without elections."

Carlos Escarrá, legislator in the National Assembly, pointed to a specific case where El Universal had an article on page 1 with the title "The amendment violates the democratic charter of the OAS [Organization of America States]."

He said the article also cites a person who claims to represent the College of Lawyers, but who does not belong to that organization.

Carolus Wimmer, in charge of international relations for the Venezuelan Communist Party, pointed out that the most political changes in history require a much longer time than two six-year presidential terms.

He added, though, "In terms of participatory democracy, it would also imply extending the proposal of continuous position to all positions subject to popular election, including the governors and mayors, so that there is also continuity [there]."

Jorge Rodriguez, head of the campaign of the PSUV for the amendment, highlighted that the constitutional amendment is quite different to a reform, in that, "A reform, as established in article 345, refers to a profound transformation of the constitution, and that was the proposal that was made in 2007, while article 341, about amendments, establishes small changes in the constitution so that it can be adjusted to new times."

Further, he pointed out that, "When [the opposition] tries to say that Chavez wants to stay in power, they are recognizing at least two things: one they are recognizing that Chavez is going to win all the elections...and on the other hand they are admitting...that if Chavez is a candidate in 2012, he's going to beat whoever [they postulate]."

Cilia Flores, president of the National Assembly, highlighted that the idea of modifying the constitution is not new. "What is new is that now the people are participating, because the amendment isn't being worked on in the Parliament, hidden from the people in order to satisfy particular, political, or economic groups', or power groups' interests." She explained that in previous presidencies, amendments had been made without consulting the people, whereas this time, if, after the National Assembly approves the amendment, it will be put to popular vote.

There have been 61 constitutional amendments by previous governments, none of which was submitted to a referendum.