Photo: La Nouvelle République, retrieved.
To gauge the impact of the January 10th, consider the aftermath of the 2015 election. The Executive Branch’s disregard of the Constitution caused a conflict of legitimacies. The political events of the past three years have all played out on the same platform: a regime that disregards the Constitution and, from that, the efforts made by a variety of strategies of the oppositions (the plural matters here) to resolve the crisis.
Like an onion that’s peeled to its core and found empty, Venezuela’s situation has reached an inconceivable political void. But beneath the onion layers, one thing remains: the consent of the governed.
The history of political processes is nothing but the story of how people’s consent for their government can be validated, regulated and recognized. That’s the crux of politics, and the technical term is legitimacy.
The justification behind obedience to authority is one of the most serious dilemmas of political philosophy, but generally speaking, Kant’s rationale prevails: we obey the law because we made it ourselves (through representatives, in the case of representative democracy). It’d be irrational to disregard a law we gave ourselves, right?
Starting in 2015, we’ve seen not just the violation of the rule of law, but of the authority and nature of public power as a whole.
You could say that the disregard for the Constitution of 1999 began at its very inception, but what’s certain is that, starting in 2015, we’ve seen not just the violation of the rule of law, but of the authority and nature of public power as a whole, the undermining of the Constitution’s intimate architecture and the basic guarantee against the accumulation of power, expressed through the separation of powers.
The conflict of legitimacies comes to a head with the election of May 20th, 2018, decried both in Venezuela and abroad, as it didn’t comply with minimal political or process guarantees. Regardless of any arguments about the strategy of running in an election under a state of emergency, there’s been a brutal deterioration in the electoral and political conditions since the National Constituent Assembly was installed. The outlawing of candidates and political parties (both before and after the elections) points to an unbridgeable chasm between practical reality and the guarantee of alternation in power. We also saw the limitations of any extra-constitutional “solution” after the bloody episodes of 2017, when the State unleashed its violence against the people.
In any case, the May 20 elections were held under a sui generis state of permanent emergency, and a new Constitutional period starts on January 10, 2019, without an elected president, only a de facto one. In other words, there won’t be a “vacancy” as established in the bewildering Article 233 of the Constitution. This unique situation calls for a political solution, not a constitutional one. In my opinion, it calls for the National Assembly, as a legitimate power, to emerge as a protector of the Constitution.
This unique situation calls for a political solution, not a constitutional one.
This means that the National Assembly’s role after January 10 must focus on acting within its capacities to restore the Constitution’s validity, not just regarding the recovery of necessary institutional and political conditions to hold legitimate, fair elections. The recovery of human rights and fundamental guarantees that are currently suspended is a must.
Politically, the National Assembly should act not as a collection of forces or parties but as an institutional body, able to rally the disperse social and political forces to defend our liberties, including our electoral rights. The scenario that starts on January 10 will unfold between the government’s pretense to stabilize its power and society’s resistance and pressure to recover the right of alternation and, indeed, political action.
This promises a tortuous political process amid the existential catastrophe of millions of Venezuelans, that shows no signs of abating. What might make a difference is if the National Assembly acts to concentrate and catalyze the multiple, and entirely dissimilar, forms of pressure on the regime, without yielding to the partisan squabbling that naturally occur.