Chavez Rejects University Law as Venezuelan National Assembly Begins New Term

The new legislative term of 2011-2016 in Venezuela began yesterday, with the National Assembly voting on a new president, revolutionary Fernando Soto Rojas. Also, President Hugo Chavez refused to sign the controversial University Education Law passed by the outgoing assembly last month.

By Tamara Pearson - Venezuelanalysis.com

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New National Assembly president, Fernando Soto Rojas (archive)
New National Assembly president, Fernando Soto Rojas (archive)
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Mérida, January 6th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The new legislative term of 2011-2016 in Venezuela began yesterday, with the National Assembly voting on a new president, revolutionary Fernando Soto Rojas. The new assembly has more opposition legislators, and new internal regulations. Also, President Hugo Chavez refused to sign the controversial University Education Law passed by the outgoing assembly last month.

New National Assembly leadership

The new assembly, which consists of 98 United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) legislators, 65 from the opposition coalition MUD, and two from the opposition leaning PPT, is different from the previous assembly because the pro-Chavez forces have a simple majority, but not the two-thirds majority necessary for making appointments to the other branches of government (Supreme Court, Electoral Council, and Attorney General) or for passing organic laws.

Also, unlike in the 2005 elections, the pro-Chavez legislators were chosen in primary elections in which party members could nominate themselves, meaning that the new PSUV legislators should be more grassroots based.

The PSUV executive proposed the three new presidents of the National Assembly, which the assembly then approved, requiring only a simple majority of legislators to vote in favour.

The new president of the assembly is Fernando Soto Rojas, a revolutionary activist for almost 60 years. Soto Rojas was a guerrilla, fought against the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez, and studied economics and lead the university student movement. He was general secretary and founder of the Socialist League, a Marxist-Leninist party that dissolved into the PSUV when it was formed in 2007.

Rojas is from the most radical sector of the PSUV and is known for his fight within the PSUV against corruption and inefficiency.

Opposition legislators challenged his nomination during the session on Wednesday, with A New Era (UNT) legislator Alfonso Marquina calling the PSUV undemocratic.

PSUV legislator Earle Herrera responded, “You don’t have the right to question the postulation of Soto Rojas because the party you belong to threw his brother [Victor Soto Rojas] from a helicopter in the sixties.”

Aristobulo Isturiz is the new first vice-president. He was a leader of the teachers’ union, mayor of Libertador municipality of Caracas from 1993 to 1996, minister for education from 2001 to 2007, and in the past he helped found the centre-left party, Homeland for All (PPT).

Blanca Eekhout is the new second vice-president. She has been president of government television channels VTV and ViVe, and was minister of communications.

In his opening speech, Soto Rojas highlighted the importance of breaking with the “shadow of capital” and the capitalist model. He said the role of the national assembly in the next legislative term would be to deepen the revolution and the “infinite ways of organising, and the people’s struggle”.

He said the new assembly must boost the people’s participation in law making.

The first session of the assembly is 11 January, when the legislators will work out the permanent commissions, the chairs of which will be decided according to each party’s proportion of legislators.

New regulations will see the National Assembly meeting four times per month

The opposition has argued that the enabling law passed last month following the emergency situation generated by heavy flooding, and giving president Chavez the power to pass laws by decree, together with the new internal regulations of the National Assembly, which instead of meeting a minimum of eight times per month will only meet a minimum of four times per month, are part of the government’s strategy to counter the opposition’s increased representation in the assembly.

“During the period of the Enabling Law [18 months], we, as well as the opposition, can propose law projects... and they will be discussed,” said Soto Rojas.

Chavez announced today that the first law to be passed under the auspices of the enabling law, will be the Law of Urban land. It should be passed in the next few days, and it allows unused urban land to be used for the housing emergency that resulted from the flooding.

On the new internal regulations, PSUV legislator Elvis Amoroso explained the change in the minimum number of sessions by saying that the legislators could “dedicate more effort to the states that elected them”.

Soto Rojas agreed, and also introduced a new term, the “legislative people”, which he argued was more meaningful than the current term used to refer to the people’s participation in legislation, “street parliamentarism”.

“We’re learning, because revolutions aren’t systematised in little books... we have to take a qualitative step and go beyond the street parlamentarism, we have to go the communities, to the communes, so the people can really be the legislative people,” Soto Rojas said.

University Education Law rejected by Chavez

On Tuesday Chavez announced that he was would not sign the University Education law passed by the National Assembly at the end of last month, so that it could be subject to a wide national debate. This means that the law is returned to the National Assembly with changes recommended by the president, which the National Assembly would be free to accept or reject, whereupon it becomes law, with or without the president’s signature.

The opposition and leftist critics of the University Education law had argued that it took away university autonomy and that the law would cause conflicts on campus, cutting into class time.

“This law has a lot of strengths and a lot of weaknesses... it deserves to be widely discussed,” Chavez said, adding that his rejection of it showed that “Venezuela has a democratic government, a government that listens... and a president that is ...ready, when necessary, to rectify and call for debate and reflection.”

Chavez requested that the national assembly form a national commission to promote the discussion.

Highlights of the law included giving students equal votes to teachers in the election of university authorities, and establishing university councils that broadened how universities are run and administered.

The law upheld university autonomy as outlined in the constitution, but changed the legal interpretation of it. PSUV legislator Alberto Castelar explained that this meant “co-responsible autonomy, which means that university authorities can’t go and do as they please.”

After it was passed, the opposition marched in Caracas against the law, and a month before, students marched in favour of the law, pressuring the National Assembly to pass it.

Herrera said he supported the president’s decisions, “It’s not the first time the president of the Republic has rejected a law and returned it to the National Assembly. He did it with the Media Crime law, for example, and that simply shows that there is a dialogue between the National Assembly and the executive. It counters the lie that the assembly basically translates for the president. The [University Education Law] was vetoed because there were many criticisms from university lecturers, PSUV legislators, and the president listened to them”.

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