Venezuelan constitutional referendum, 2009
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The 2009 referendum was a vote in which the citizens of Venezuela approved Amendment No. 1 (Enmienda No. 1) of the Constitution of Venezuela; this abolished term limits for the offices of President, state governors, mayors and National Assembly deputies.
The current constitution, enacted in 1999 by referendum, previously established a three-term limit for deputies and a two-term limit for the other offices. The proposed amendment was put to a referendum on 15 February 2009 and endorsed by 54% of the electorate, with approximately 70% of registered voters participating.
A proposal for an important change in the main structure of the Constitution, that included abolishing presidential term limits among major social, economical and political changes was rejected in 2007 when university students led protests and played a critical role in the result; President Hugo Chávez had said the reform was needed to implement his socialist program. Chávez conceded defeat by saying "for now, we couldn't" ("por ahora no pudimos"), echoing the phrase he used after the failure of his February 1992 attempted coup d'état against the Carlos Andrés Pérez government.
On 30 November 2008, six days after regional elections, Hugo Chávez announced on television that he would be open to a new wave of discussion on the proposal for allowing the postulation without limits to presidential candidature. The following day, his supporters started working towards a constitutional amendment for this goal.
Provisions of the amendment
The full title of the law was Amendment No. 1 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Enmienda No. 1 de la Constitucion de Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela). It was approved by a majority of the members of the National Assembly. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Chávez's political party) states that the initiative was backed by more than six million people. The amendment affects Articles 160, 162, 174, 192 and 230 of the constitution. They are amended as follows:
Article 160: The governor shall be elected for a four-year term by the majority of the votes cast. The governor may be re-elected immediately and only once for one more term.
Article 160: The governor shall be elected for a four-year term by the majority of the votes cast. The governor may be re-elected.
Article 162: The regional legislators shall be elected for a maximum of two terms in a row.
Article 162: The regional legislators may be re-elected.
Article 174: The mayor shall be elected for a four-year term by the majority of the votes cast and may be re-elected immediately and only once for one more term.
Article 174: The mayor shall be elected for a four-year term by the majority of the votes cast and may be re-elected.
Article 192: The deputies for the National Assembly are elected for a five-year term with the possibility of re-election for a maximum of two terms in a row.
Article 192: The deputies for the National Assembly are elected for a five-year term with the possibility of re-election.
Article 230: The presidential term of office lasts six years. The President of the Republic may be re-elected immediately and only once for one more term.
Article 230: The presidential term of office lasts six years. The President of the Republic may be re-elected.
Article 341 of the constitution, which governs amendments, states that "amendments shall be numbered consecutively and shall be published beneath the Constitution without altering the text of the latter". Therefore, the 2009 amendment has not altered the original text of the constitution. Rather, Amendment No.1 (including new texts for each of the five amended articles) is published below the original text as a codicil.
Do you approve the amendment of articles 160, 162, 174, 192 and 230 of the Constitution of the Republic, as processed by the National Assembly, which increases the political rights of the people, with the purpose of allowing any citizen incumbent in an elected office, to be nominated as candidate for the same office, for the period of time established constitutionally, his or her possible re-election depending exclusively on popular vote?
Opinion polls conducted on the measure in December 2008 varied widely, with results ranging from 32% approval (with 61% disapproval) to 51% approval (with 39% disapproval). The final results were as follows:
|Invalid or blank votes||206,419||1.76|
|Registered voters and turnout||16,652,179||70.33|
These figures were given in the second partial official bulletin, issued when canvassing reached a 98.81% of the votes. The trends are deemed to be irreversible. Final results are awaited in the following days.
||This section's representation of one or more viewpoints about a controversial issue may be unbalanced or inaccurate. (August 2010)|
The initial reaction of the opposition to the referendum proposal was that it was illegal. Henry Ramos, secretary general of the opposition party Acción Democrática called the proposal " 'illegal and unconstitutional' because Article 345 says that 'A revised constitutional reform initiative may not be submitted during the same constitutional term of office of the National Assembly.' " Chávez avoided this issue by declaring that the change to the constitution would be in the form of an amendment, instead of a constitutional reform. In addition, the constitutional amendment was re-defined to apply to all popular elected positions, not just to the president. Elenis Rodríguez Martínez, a leader of the opposition party Primero Justicia, stated that the proposed change constitutes a fundamental change to the constitution, and therefore cannot be voted as an amendment. She stated that, "Under Article 340, 'the purpose of an amendment is to add to or modify one or more articles of the Constitution, without altering the fundamental structure of the same.' When the president says that he wants to delete some words from Article 230 of the Constitution, he is lying, because he really wants to remove an essential part of the text and in doing so he is altering its structure, as well as part of the provisions of Article 6, which reads that 'the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is ... alternating' (...) This is a camouflaged reform." However, the Constitutional Court ruled that such a change was within the scope of a constitutional amendment, and that such an amendment could be re-attempted each year. The editors of Venezuelan publishing house Veneconomy argue that the 15 February date is too soon to comply with time-frames set forth by the suffrage law and related laws for the registration of voters newly-turned-18 and for the organization of polling stations.
Students again took a leading role in protests, as they did in the campaign against the 2007 referendum. On 16 January students blocked a Caracas highway, burned trees and taunted the police. After viewing video of the protests, Chávez gave the order: "Throw lots of (tear) gas at them, and take them prisoner for me. If you don't, I'm going to go after the authorities responsible." Tensions rose in advance of the referendum, with a group of 40 armed men taking over the Caracas city hall, to which an opposition mayor had been elected in November, and declaring the building "recovered for the revolution". Tear gas was also thrown at the compound of the papal nuncio, who had granted asylum to an anti-Chávez student leader accused of sexual assault; and an anti-Chávez student leader's car was burned.
Opposition figures have accused Chávez of using all the resources of the government to support the Yes campaign, ranging from near-total support for the Yes campaign on state radio and television to placement of Yes campaign ads on official ministry websites. According to opposition figure Leopoldo López, "we aren’t competing against a political party, we’re competing against an entire state and all of the power it can wield". The opposition also says that No campaign ads have had their approval delayed and scheduling manipulated by the National Electoral Council.
Following claims that US officials had met with Venezuelan opposition leaders in Puerto Rico (which the US denied), Chávez accused U.S. President Barack Obama of meddling in the referendum, adding that "He's said I'm an obstacle for progress in Latin America... Therefore it must be removed, this obstacle, right?" Chávez also added that Obama was under pressure from the Pentagon to be tough on Venezuela by quoting: "He [Obama] knows that if he doesn't obey the orders of the empire, they'll probably kill him."
President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva backed Hugo Chávez's proposal of a possible re-election and asked why nobody criticized Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who was also proposing the removal of Colombia's current two-term limit, having already removed the previous one-term limit, a move that made possible his re-election in 2006.
Around 100 international observers were accredited to observe the vote, but neither the Organization of American States nor the European Union had official observers in Venezuela. Observers from Latin American nations, European Parliament members, and European academics said that the ballot had been free and fair. Despite Chávez's hostile relationship with the United States, the United States Department of State spokesman Noel Clay praised the "civic spirit" of the referendum. He added that it was important that elected officials in Venezuela focused on "governing democratically".
On 13 February 2009, the Venezuelan government expelled Luis Herrero, a Spanish member of the European Parliament (and member of the European People's Party), after he called Chávez a dictator and criticized Chávez's handling of the constitutional referendum. One of the parties in the opposition to Chávez had asked Herrero to observe the referendum.
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