The Amendment Scenario

When you look at it in detail, an amendment to the constitution to shorten Maduro's term and force a presidential election this December makes quite a lot of sense from the MUD's point of view.

As the Maduro Administration perfects its deer-frozen-in-the-headlights routine, pressure is mounting for the new majority at the National Assembly to come up with a specific roadmap for accelerating a change in government.

Conventional wisdom has centered on the possibility of a Recall Referendum, but yesterday veteran Causa R politico Andrés Velásquez proposed an intriguing alternative: amending the constitution to shorten the presidential term to four years with a single re-election, and ordering CNE to hold new elections by December.

The proposed amendment would smartly also shorten the term for Supreme Tribunal justices from 12 years to 6, a reform that would leave most current sitting justices holding expired seats which the National Assembly would need to move to fill.

It’s a smart proposal on a number of levels. The constitution’s Article 341 allows a simple majority of the National Assembly to propose an amendment to one or several articles of the constitution, so long as the changes do not alter its fundamental structure.  Once the Assembly approves the amendment, CNE has 30 days to hold a referendum. Article 341 doesn’t mention the Supreme Tribunal anywhere – so the Constitutional Chamber’s approval isn’t needed for the referendum to go ahead.

Of course, someone could ask for an injunction against the plan – and though it would be crazy, since we have precedent for term limits being altered via constitutional amendment as recently as 2009 – the tribunal could always find some tortured justification for ruling that this time it would alter the structure of the constitution, in which case it can only be altered by a Constitutional Reform, which would need a 2/3rds approval from the Assembly.

Velásquez is pitching it as a guarantee of political stability, but the proposal has a series of advantages over a recall referendum as well.

First, a constitutional amendment sidesteps the need to collect almost four million signatures from people in just three days, which is what would be needed to set a recall vote into motion. (Remember, the National Assembly cannot convoke a recall referendum even with a unanimous vote – you need signtures for that.) In the shadow of the Tascón List, this is far from a trivial requirement: people have very legitimate reasons to fear publicly registering as regime opponents, in 2016 much more than in 2003.

Even if that hurdle is cleared, the ‘Yes’ Campaign in a recall referendum would need to get at least the same number of votes Maduro originally received when elected in 2003 and more votes than the ‘No’ side. We’d need 7,587,579 votes. Last December 6th, opposition lists for the National Assembly received 7,726,066 votes…so more than the magic number for a recall, but still probably too close for comfort.

What if there’s heavy rain on the day of the vote? Could that dissuade 140,000 people from voting? Could heavy intimidation? Two definite ‘maybes’ in my book.

But probably the biggest advantage an Amendment has over a Recall Referendum is that it allows the MUD to control the election clock. Whereas in the case of a recall, 2003-2004 style delays over verifying signatures would make the actual timing of voting highly uncertain, with an amendment MUD is able to straight-up tell CNE when to hold a new election – in Andrés Velásquez’s proposal – presidential and gubernatorial elections would be held no later than the second Sunday in December, 2016, with the newly elected authorities taking office on January 10th next year.

Anteproyecto de Enmienda

Taking control of the timing of elections would allow the opposition time to, for instance, hold primaries to choose its own candidate – something that wouldn’t be possible under the hyper-compressed timeline envisioned in a Recall procedure, where a new election would have to be held within 30 days of a successful recall vote.

Finally, Velásquez’s draft amendment, would, additionally, ensure that elections come after the October 16th PDVSA Bond payment, ensuring there’s no confusion over who owns that particular by-now unavoidable catastrophe. Say what you want about Amanda’s reasoning, but there’s something to be said for that.