It was a grand announcement, calculated to shake up Venezuela’s political scene in lasting ways. Maduro’s call for a Constituent Assembly with unlimited powers to remake the Republic was a high stakes gambit aimed at seizing back control of the political conversation.
That was less than two weeks ago and, already, the Constituyente’s moment has faded.
Why? Because the call for a Constituyente has already failed at its most urgent task: dividing the opposition and dialling down the pressure on the street.
For once, the MUD managed to process its initial disarray relatively quickly and reach a consensus that makes sense. The line is simple: no way. Ni de vaina are we going to get drawn into a discussion on a proposal that looks every bit like a trap. Take your constituyente and…
Of course, not everyone on the opposition side is happy about this line. There’s always a bit of dissent just beneath the surface. Elías Jaua, the hardcore commie who heads the Presidential Commission on the Constituent Assembly, could spring a surprise and announce fair(ish) rules for electing delegates to the Constituyente. That could change the political climate quickly, with MUD moderates quickly deeply tempted to participate.
There just isn’t going to be any Constituyente, because there are no bases comiciales the government could trust in this climate.
For the MUD as a whole to consider this, however, the government would have to significantly sweeten its offer: putting the call to convene a Constituent Assembly to a referendum, and including in the referendum a specific proposal for “bases comiciales” (electoral rules to choose Constituent Assembly delegates) that give the opposition a real shot at winning.
But let’s game this out: say the government, desperate to get some traction on the other side, does improve its offer. Say it ditches its calls for a “sectorial” election, or at least defines those sectors broadly enough that they don’t matter (Sector 1: 18-30 year olds, Sector 2: 31-64 year olds, Sector 3: 65s and above.) Say it puts forward “bases comiciales” that would allow the 3-to-1 anti-government majority public opinion research shows to be translated into a majority on the ANC and the opposition, seeing this as an “electoral solution”, and decides to go for it.
The opposition would then begin to switch from a protest track to an electioneering track. And it’s this shift that the government sees as the reason for putting a Constituyente on the table. Once the proposal has achieved that, its job is done. As street protests die down, the main reason for dangling a Constituyente would vanish.
Suddenly, the government would just find itself heading towards electoral obliteration, and with no protests on the street to keep it to its commitments.
At this stage, if they called Cilia’s nephews a “sector” Maduro couldn’t be sure to win there.
So what does Maduro do then? Simple. He picks up the phone, hits Speed-Dial #1 (for the Supreme Tribunal’s Constitutional Chamber), and orders up a decision cancelling the Constituyente.
You’re a sucker, Charlie Brown.
The point is that, after the last Parliamentary elections, the government learned its lesson: don’t go to an election you can’t win. Following December 2015, it would take a miscalculation of insane proportions for the government to repeat its mistake.
Which is why I’m convinced the Constituyente is just a tactical gambit, put forward without any real intention to follow through on it. Because in the current opinion climate, it’s hard to imagine any bases comiciales that would ensure a government win.
We’re talking about a government that actually suspended elections for Consejos Comunales’ spokespersons late last year because they were worried they’d lose those.
These are groups it created and stacked with its supporters: the government isn’t sure it can win there. And that’s before you get to other imaginable “sectors” —pensionados, students, union members… all groups where Maduro is widely loathed. At this stage, if they called Cilia’s nephews a “sector” Maduro couldn’t be sure to win there.
Long story short, there just isn’t going to be any Constituyente, because there are no bases comiciales the government could trust in this climate. The question now is how elegant or otherwise the climbdown will be.
The MUD did well to get out ahead of this trampa cazabobos. There’s a clarity now we’ve never had before. It matters.