I hate false dilemmas, especially in politics where millions of people’s lives are at stake.
Today, the Mesa de Unidad (MUD) is expected to announce its way forward, based on consensus on how the first step towards fixing the country is removing Nicolas Maduro from power.
The factions backing a constitutional amendment and those backing a recall referendum seem almost at war. This is dismaying, because there’s really no need to choose between an amendment and a recall. We can pursue both.
We must pursue both.
According to its supporters, an amendment to the constitution would be the quickest way to end a Maduro mandate, and could be called with a simple majority of parliament (Art. 341 CBRV), followed by a referendum to approve it. Easy as pie, ladies and gentlemen.
Naysayers say this is unconstitutional, because you can’t retroactively apply a constitutional amendment to make a presidential term shorter for the current president. And of course the Supreme Tribunal (TSJ) can rule that the proposed amendment is dead on arrival, and then what would be the strategy? Protests on the streets? To somehow force the National Elections Council (CNE) to conduct the referendum on the amendment after the TSJ has ruled it unconstitutional?
On the recall referendum side, proponents say that it’s the best way to mobilize dissatisfied Venezuelans on a clean-cut question. Do you want Maduro out? Yes or no? It’s a platform that unites both disaffected chavistas and the opposition.
Can you imagine what a lonely campaign that would be for Maduro? Can anyone deny that this would be a perfect escape valve for the PSUV party and other strong PSUV governors? Let’s get rid of this unnecessary burden called Maduro.
Recall referendum detractors say the electoral council can pile on hurdles making it impossible for the elections to happen in 2016 and guaranteeing an Aristóbulo transition for two more years (Art. 233 CRBV).
Finally there is the hard question to answer: would people be willing to sign, take a photograph and use the captahuellas to request a referendum? Are you depressed yet? Is there no alternative?
Of course there is: look beyond the fake dilemma and do both.
Right now, the key word is pressure. We need to apply pressure to the pillars of power to make sure that Maduro does not govern another year.
Think about those military guys that know how desperate the situation is. You are a military officer, or a powerful PSUV governor, or a wealthy boliburgeois that knows that at this point Maduro is dead weight. What would make you more likely to throw Maduro under the bus?
The answer is pressure, and the more pressure the better. When two constitutional mechanisms exert pressure on these groups and are not mutually exclusive, there’s no sense choosing between them. Sometimes two imperfect solutions together form a better solution.
There’s no strategic reason why the MUD should give up either the recall or the amendment. Together, they put Nicolás Maduro and his cronies in the more difficult position of obstructing the “change” mandate that was voted upon on December 6th.
The smart move for MUD is to open two big lines of attack on the government. If we’re going into this firefight, I’d rather bring a gun with two bullets in the chamber than one.
Imagine this scenario, we start with the measly 200,000 signatures it takes for the recall election request. This would force CNE to consider the request and make a pronouncement. You can continue to have people go every single day to the Electoral Council to sign. If they stop the signing process you can make sure a different group goes and just keeps asking over and over again.
It is a key test to see how people would react. There is a minimum of 200,000 signatures to activate a broader, CNE-run signature collection, but there’s no reason you can’t try to get more – many more. If people turn out to sign in very large numbers, which the polls clearly state they would, that sends an important message to the country, to CNE, and to the armed forces.
At the same time, the opposition can move forward on the proposed amendment discussions to shorten the length of elected mandates and reinstate term limits. This would let people know the opposition is willing and able to get off two shots, not one. It would mean that the government, TSJ and the CNE would have to act at the same time to obstruct these proposals. They might, but in closing down all the legal avenues, they would be legitimizing calls for more radical action.
It’s not that both proposals are easier or harder, both have very convincing points of view in favor and against, but it is lunacy to take one of the bullets out of the chamber if we don’t have to. That’s strategy 101.
Maybe there’s something I don’t know. Some people think the amendment proposal could put enough pressure on Maduro to force a resignation. Perhaps there is also a negotiated agreement between opposition and some factions within the government. But why leave it to chance? Resignation would, of course, be the least traumatic option. But people don’t resign because you ask them to, they do it because you make them.
Folks, I don’t know about you but if there’s a wolf out there and I have a gun with two bullets, I bring them both. Who knows, the first bullet might miss.