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.

47 COMMENTS

  1. Definitely, a lot to be said about this strategy. I do believe they would try to block it in the tsj. Even if they didn’t, I believe they would probably say that the people currently in power aren’t affected by the change. Maybe there’s a way around this?

      • The amendment will be torpedoed by the TSJ and dragged along for months, the referedum even with all its flaws is a pretty straightforward mechanism (collect the signatures+hold the referendum), considering the past history, choosing the mechanism that allows more intervention from the TSJ is misguided. And I think that when the opposition decided to abide by TSJ’s ruling suspending the MPs from Amazonas it got itself on a conundrum, it empowered the TSJ as the “perro de caza” del chavismo and not complying with a future ruling in the amendment will be hard to justify.

        • The amendment will be torpedoed by TSJ if the guy who gives TSJ orders doesn’t want to see Maduro gone by january. As far as I remember, the guy who gives TSJ orders is Diosdado…

  2. Very interesting. Obviously collecting that many signatures in three days is a fool’s errand. The time constraint is not designed to empower the electorate, but rather to hoodwink it into believing in a referendum option which doesn’t really exist.

    And while all the fascist judges have to go–those who are unable to understand the need for judicial independence from the executive—six year terms are not a good constitutional option. Judges must never have to worry about regime favour, and a short term in office leads to long-term corruption.

  3. Looks like a good alternative.
    But I wonder if riots will come first, with hunger December looks eternal.
    The sooner Maduro leaves, the better.
    The best case scenario is Maduro resigning, which has happened in many countries before after large public protest.

      • Unfortunately, I can also see #4 and #5 here, and these two options are not “driven” by opposition levers.

        #4 Renuncia inducida
        #5(more violent) Renuncia inducida

        The regime’s puppet master is better situated to make executive decisions on this matter, no long-hellish full of pitfalls democratic procedures (be it Recall referendum or constitutional Amendments).

        Maduro will last in his post and in this earth for as long as it remains the best alternative to cuba, and to the other leading factions of the regime, national interests be dammed.

        All that the NEW AN and other nationalistic players out there can do is to promote the incentives to the real stakeholders of this game (debt holders, China, neighboring countries being affected by disease, drugs and potential refugee migrations, !) so to make it so that Maduro ceases to be said best option.

        Now, changing the puppet again (chavez, Maduro) does not really change the fundamentals of the game, and the fundamentals are who has the sarten por el mango in regards to organized and paramilitary strength.

        I read it very telling the recent anecdote of Chinese agents making the point their deals had been done with Venezuela and not with chavismo… (Read between the lines)

  4. If a Constitutional Amendment were to target the term of office of sitting judges, certainly those judges affected could not pass on its validity.

      • The two are similar. The MUD chose not to press the point the first time round. But in terms of international legitimacy, a bunch of judges ruling that they, personally, cannot have their terms changed by constitutional amendment will not help the Chavistas cause.

        In the end, it cones down to power, but an openly-fascist Venezuela will not last long; hence the importance of constraints on legitimacy.

  5. This is my preferred option. The referendum is way more complicated, and even if there are no delays in the process by the CNE and TSJ, it would only speed up the unseating of Maduro by… what? A few months? Better to choose the road that’s slightly longer, but simpler.

  6. Awesome post. And Kudos to Causa R for a proposal that not only steers the country out of this mess, but also towards a good system.

    But this is not Amanda’s strategy proposal. This is another form (like you said yourself) of accelerated removal of Maduro from power. Which has to be pursued!. Logistically no proposal would provide Maduro’s removal this year. You need too much time to get it together and all alternatives are in very early stages within the MUD.

    Let me remind you that Amanda’s proposal was to let Maduro stay in power to eradicate chavismo. As to create a psychological imprint from the collapse that the mere mentioning of Chavez would make people’s stomach hurt. This is not that.

    • There’s really no reason why CNE can’t hold a firmazo in March, a referendum in April and a presidential election in May…

      We presume they’ll stall because e presume they’ll perceive time as on their side, but both of those are entirely untested presumptions.

      When you start a recall process, you give up control of the clock, that’s all I’m saying. They may choose to go fast, they may choose to go slow. You don’t control it, they do.

          • That is moot point. It all depends on how long before total collapse.
            The situation in October, if not earlier could be so bad that Amanda plans would be already fulfilled.
            We don’t really have the luxury nor the ability to predict the future to pick the perfect time.
            The removal of Maduro from power should be ASAP.
            Venezuela is sinking with every passing day he is is power.

          • Amanda was proposing what the best way to eliminate the Chavismo is. To put it bluntly, the purpose of the article is the destruction of el Chavismo and not what’s best for the country.

            Many are giving her grief over that article, but she never claimed this was what is best for Venezuela. Just what is the most effective way to eliminate them.

            In that regard, her proposal has merit. I don’t agree it being the best for Venezuela. The article was/is grossly misinterpreted.

  7. Just wondering if it isn’t possible for the AN to amend the law which requires the recall signatures to be collected in 3 days so the collection can be made in 6 days and allowing also signatures to be collected from venezuelans living abroad ??

  8. Hey Quico nice post! Thanks for the analysis en caliente.

    Just two quick things:

    1. PDVSA 16s are maturing on October 28th, 2016. Not on the 16th. Small difference, but keep it in mind for your political events timing.

    2. I agree on Rodrigo that this is nowhere near what Amanda was hinting at with her post. In fact, you could consider that putting this plan in action (let’s say as early as next week!) would represent the start of the (Constitution-bound) Salida. And yes, sure, the govt will use the excuse of the right wing not letting them work, sabotaging the economy, creating a political crisis, etc..

    But they are using that and many other crazy excuses every day for seventeen freaking years and it seems to be an incredibly efficient rethorical device for cementing support on their base. The more I think about Amanda’s idea, the more I’m convinced it’s counterproductive. It’s giving green lights to Maduro & Co. to keep the status quo. And don’t underestimate their ability to stay liquid (and hence, alive) on that status quo..

  9. At this moment, not only could you collect 4 million signatures for a recall election in short order, you could probably collect enough signatures to represent a plurality of the registered voters. The lines to sign the petitions would make the lines to buy food look like child’s play.

    I wonder if the politicians and those not living in Venezuela are underestimating exactly how much discontent there is in this country. In my opinion, if the Opposition does not clearly define a path forward very quickly, some of that discontent is going start getting directed toward the Opposition as much as it is currently directed toward the Regime.

    I fear that anyone proposing to tell the people to wait another year for a change is playing with fire.

  10. “…new elections by December.” By then blue helmets will be distributing food and water from the U.N. out of the back of trucks to people on the street. The government will be run by a military triumvirate. And a quarter of the population will have fled to Colombia.

  11. I thought the assembly with 2/3 could call for a referéndum without signatures.

    I find very unlikely people would submit themselves to the ordeal it was the signatures thing in the past including the Tascon List.

  12. For Venezuelans one thing is giving your signature for a referendum and a whole different thing would be voting in a presidential election. Most of Venezuelans think there’s still a chance to remain annonymous when voting in a presidential election and that idea seems very attractive for plenty of people in the country right now. So that’s why I support Andres Velazquez idea, because it’s clever, innovative and I honestly see more pros in this scenario than in a referendum type of solution.

  13. This is a brilliant idea that should come first and become priority for the MUD and AN. Quite frankly I’m surprised at the simplicity, the effectiveness, and the origin of such proposal.

    The referendumb is slow, tedious, highly prone to stalling tactics from the government and risks us keeping Aristóbulo in charge. Let alone the trauma for most of the opposition will have to go through after being singled out in the Tascon list. Do you think public employees and beneficiaries of the GMVV will risk signing it? Even if they were to vote I doubt thy would risk calling for a referendum.

    This option is much more sensible, and back to the wait for chavismo to die post: it may even happen after the default, raising of gas prices, etc… Therefore the opposition would be spending little political capital.

    A Combined state local and presidential elections also gives us the opportunity to have a greater turnout for governors and mayors. It would give greater legitimacy to the win, or loss, because people will have to come and vote, we are very presidentialistic after all.

  14. Well, it seems too depending on them following the law, they will come up with a lot of weird interpretations, and they already declared themselves in rebeldía…

    Plus it might set a bad presedent, the whole thing makes our constitution seem a little flimsy if whoever has a majority of the AN can do that (of course to fix this the circuitos thing should be back to normal, but guess who’s not even going to think about it since that’s what got them a curul)

    Marchar seems too complicated given that people are bussy trying to get food and even more so once this gets worse.

    Signing seems like a low calories idea and people might be more willing to do it after they voted on 6D and they weren’t laid off…

    In the end, anything that can hold back a coup is a good idea, that blue helmet scenario is not impossible, and we already have sika around, we should avoid yet another crysis.

  15. I do like the amendment idea, over recall referendum and (even more tedious and complex) constitutional reform or Constituent Assambly; but, from a TSJ POV, this proposal would have recalling effects withouth the constitutional requirements (20% signatures etc), so they could either amend the amendment to let the current term end at the time people voted for, with the option to ALSO call for a recalling referendum afterwards (which would make the whole amendment idea pointless); or simply reject it on inconstitutional basis. A way to get this sorted would be going back to Quico’s thought of getting the TSJ packed with “neutral” buddies first.

  16. A referendum is a Yes/No vote, and with the electronic voting system it’s very easy for the gov’t to simply reverse the results. My understanding is that one reason the gov’t wasn’t able to steal the 6D result is that there were so many parties on the ballot paper that logistically it just wasn’t possible in the time available. But in a referendum what’s to stop them inverting the results (again)?

  17. I have a couple of questions: How much would an election cost? Can we afford it? could a new government actually avoid going into “default by default” and stir our country into a better economy? how late is too late for that? three months, one year, two years? Obviously we can’t go back in time, but there must be something other than waiting for a miracle from el comandante intergalactico to help minimize the effect of the upcoming Armageddon of our economy that we can do. We pride on having smart people on our side, you guys seem to be aware of the mess that we are in, that’s a start!, can you think of any solutions?

    • My miracle scenario would be that by the time the shit hits the fan at least we could have a decent crew of ministers, a semi-unified AN and a liberal enough person in charge to at least steer into the skid and have an agenda that more or less looks like the terms we will have to meet…

  18. The TSJ will block it. It’s worth a shot, but think about it. They will rule it being “unfair” or insert random fake legal term to apply that to a sitting president while he is in office. The TSJ will agree to have it start applying for the next president.

    I am calling it right now for future reference.

  19. Personally, I think there’s a flaw in Causa R proposal. Amending articles related to elected officials along with non elected ones (TSJ) is not the right thing to do. I think the main focus should be reducing presidential terms. Only that. So the electorate won’t be confused in case of a referendum.

  20. This makes it sound like its a new idea. This has been talked about from day one, I think it was PJ that first talked about it the days after Dec. 6th. as a better choice than a recall referendum. It is also cleaner, you are not going against Maduro, he can run. As I wrote on Dec. 20th. (Dont like to toot my horn, but yes, this is old, not new)

    “A less confrontational path may be to propose a Constitutional Amendment, which also requires a referendum, changing the Presidential term to four years with only one reelection. (currently six years and indefinite reelection) In this manner, you are not saying Maduro has to go, but rather, Maduro’s completion of Chávez’ term ends in Oct. 2016 and he will have to run to get reelected. This may be a much more attractive way for disgruntled Chavistas: Maduro has a few months to improve things and if he doesn’t, he will not be reelected. ”

    As to all the doubters, Chavismo also wants Maduro out. The hard part is making it legal. Some Chavistas thinks time is running out for that. Hold on to your hats.

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