A Long and Complex Way to the Referendum

There are still many legal issues that should be solved so that the Venezuelans have clear rules when it comes to the referendum.

The mid point of President Chavez’ term was reached this week and
everybody is speaking about the recall referendum process in Venezuela.

Still, the lack of specific regulations turns the way to the referendum into a long and complex procedure. There are still many legal issues that should be solved so that the Venezuelans have clear rules when it comes to the referendum. Here are some of the problems we still have to solve in order to make the process clearer and more democratic.

1. The validation of the signatures. The Venezuelan Constitution states in article 72 that a number no less than twenty per cent of the registered voters can solicit the convocation of a referendum to revoke the mandate of an elected official. The Venezuelan opposition presented on Aug. 20 more than three million signatures that they have collected on Feb 2. Since this is the first time a process like this has taken place in Venezuela, there is no specific legislation that regulates it. A sentence issued on the 13th of February by the Constitutional Hall of the Supreme Tribunal says that the signatures can be collected before the middle of the period but there are still concerns about the validity of them . Some say that the forms used for collecting them are irregular and sectors of the opposition are even considering the need to organize a second “firmazo” for the purpose of once again gathering signatures.

2) Which referendum goes first? The Venezuelan constitution establishes that not only the President but any elected official can be recalled from his office if the appropriate steps are followed. At the moment, there are more than 50 registered petitions to recall officials in Venezuela. Most of them have come prior to the submission to recall the President so… which one should go first? Is it fair to delay the referendums asked by the citizens that submitted their signatures in regards to other officeholders prior to the more newsworthy recall on President Chavez?

One posibility is to hold the recalls for referendum according to the
chronological order of their submissions. Another alternative is to do them all at once.

In a recent visit to Washington, Ivan Rincon, the President of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, suggested that one possible solution for this situation would be have a multireferendum. A multireferendum would allow people to vote in the local and national level at the same time in those cities or states where the elected official is recalled.

3. Who will monitor the process? This is probably the most important question of all. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, the National Elector Council is the body in charge of monitoring and organizing the recall process. The National Assembly has been discussing the issue for months and has achieved no consensus regarding the designation of the authorities. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice has now stepped in due to the failure of The National Assembly and must come to a decision regarding this issue before Aug. 24.

4. Other sources of confusion. Since there is no specific law that regulates the referendum, there are many issues that have yet to be solved. For example, if the referendum is held and the president losses, can he be a candidate for the upcoming elections? Who is entitled to vote in the referendum, those who voted in the last election or all the people who are registered in the official electoral lists?

Until we get these issues solved we will not accomplish what all Venezuelans hope: clear and fair rules to decide the destiny of our nation.