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Venezuelan constitutional referendum, 2009

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
Constitution of Venezuela
||The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the current and twenty-sixth constitution of Venezuela. It was drafted in mid-1999 by a constitutional assembly that had been created by popular referendum. Adopted in December 1999, it replaced the 1961 Constitution - the longest...

; this abolished term limit
Term limit
A term limit is a legal restriction that limits the number of terms a person may serve in a particular elected office. When term limits are found in presidential and semi-presidential systems they act as a method to curb the potential for monopoly, where a leader effectively becomes "president for...

s for the offices of President, state governors, mayors and National Assembly
National Assembly of Venezuela
The National Assembly is the legislative branch of the Venezuelan government. It is a unicameral body made up of a variable number of members, who are elected by "universal, direct, personal, and secret" vote partly by direct election in state-based voting districts, and partly on a state-based...

 deputies
Deputy (legislator)
A deputy is a legislator in many countries, particularly those with legislatures styled as a 'Chamber of Deputies' or 'National Assembly'.-List of countries:This is an list of countries using the term 'deputy' or one of its cognates....

.

The current constitution, enacted in 1999 by referendum
Referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

, previously established a three-term limit for deputies and a two-term limit for the other offices. The proposed amendment
Constitutional amendment
A constitutional amendment is a formal change to the text of the written constitution of a nation or state.Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation...

 was put to a referendum on 15 February 2009 and endorsed by 54% of the electorate, with approximately 70% of registered voters participating.

Background


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
Venezuelan constitutional referendum, 2007
A constitutional referendum was held in Venezuela on 2 December 2007 to amend 69 articles of the 1999 Constitution. Reform was needed, according to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, to implement his socialist agenda; detractors said he was using the reforms to become a dictator.The referendum was...

 when university students led protests and played a critical role in the result; President Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chávez
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is the 56th and current President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1999. He was formerly the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement political party from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when he became the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela...

 had said the reform was needed to implement his socialist
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 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
Carlos Andrés Pérez
Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez , also known as CAP and often referred to as El Gocho , was a Venezuelan politician, President of Venezuela from 1974 to 1979 and again from 1989 to 1993. His first presidency was known as the Saudi Venezuela due to its economic and social prosperity thanks to...

 government.

On 30 November 2008, six days after regional elections
Venezuelan regional elections, 2008
The regional elections of Venezuela were held on Sunday, 23 November 2008, to choose22 governors, 2 metropolitan mayors, 328 mayors and 251 aldermen for a four-year term . These were the first elections to be held since incumbent President Hugo Chávez founded the PSUV.In these elections, 17,308...

, 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
National Assembly of Venezuela
The National Assembly is the legislative branch of the Venezuelan government. It is a unicameral body made up of a variable number of members, who are elected by "universal, direct, personal, and secret" vote partly by direct election in state-based voting districts, and partly on a state-based...

. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela
United Socialist Party of Venezuela
The United Socialist Party of Venezuela is the name of a democratic socialist political party in Venezuela which resulted from the fusion of some of the political and social forces that support the Bolivarian Revolution led by incumbent President Hugo Chávez...

 (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:
Previous Current

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
Codicil
Codicil can refer to:* Codicil : An addition made to a will* Any addition made subsequent and appended to the original* Any addition or appendix, such as a corollary to a theorem* Codicil : A poem by Derek Walcott...

.

Referendum question


The question elaborated by the National Electoral Council
National Electoral Council (Venezuela)
The National Electoral Council is one of the five independent branches of government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. It is the institution that oversees and guarantees the transparency of all elections and referendums in Venezuela at the local, regional, and national levels...

 was:

Results


Opinion poll
Opinion poll
An opinion poll, sometimes simply referred to as a poll is a survey of public opinion from a particular sample. Opinion polls are usually designed to represent the opinions of a population by conducting a series of questions and then extrapolating generalities in ratio or within confidence...

s 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:

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.

Opposition


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
Supreme Tribunal of Justice (Venezuela)
The Supreme Tribunal of Justice is the highest court of law in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and is the head of the judicial branch.The Supreme Tribunal may meet either in specialized chambers or in plenary session...

 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
Leopoldo López
Leopoldo López Mendoza is a Venezuelan politician and economist. From 2000 until 2008, López was the mayor of the Chacao Municipality of Caracas. A 2006 Los Angeles Times article describes López as an immensely popular leader of the opposition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, as well as a...

, "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
National Electoral Council (Venezuela)
The National Electoral Council is one of the five independent branches of government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. It is the institution that oversees and guarantees the transparency of all elections and referendums in Venezuela at the local, regional, and national levels...

.

International


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
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 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 added that Obama was under pressure from the Pentagon: "If he doesn't obey the orders of the empire, they'll kill him."

President of Brazil
President of Brazil
The president of Brazil is both the head of state and head of government of the Federative Republic of Brazil. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the Brazilian Armed Forces...

 Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva , known popularly as Lula, served as the 35th President of Brazil from 2003 to 2010.A founding member of the Workers' Party , he ran for President three times unsuccessfully, first in the 1989 election. Lula achieved victory in the 2002 election, and was inaugurated as...

 backs Hugo Chávez's proposal of a possible re-election and asks why nobody criticizes Colombian President Álvaro Uribe
Álvaro Uribe
Alvaro Uribe Vélez was the 58th President of Colombia, from 2002 to 2010. In August 2010 he was appointed Vice-chairman of the UN panel investigating the Gaza flotilla raid....

, 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.

International observers


Around 100 international observers were accredited to observe the vote, but neither the Organization of American States
Organization of American States
The Organization of American States is a regional international organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States...

 nor the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 had official observers in Venezuela. Observers from Latin American nations, European Parliament
European Parliament
The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union . Together with the Council of the European Union and the Commission, it exercises the legislative function of the EU and it has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world...

 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
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

 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
Luis Herrero-Tejedor Algar
Luis Francisco Herrero-Tejedor Algar is a Spanish politician andMember of the European Parliament with the People's Party,part of the European People's Party and sits on...

, a Spanish member of the European Parliament
European Parliament
The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union . Together with the Council of the European Union and the Commission, it exercises the legislative function of the EU and it has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world...

 (and member of the European People's Party
European People's Party
The European People's Party is a pro-European centre-right European political party. The EPP was founded in 1976 by Christian democratic parties, but later it increased its membership to include conservative parties and parties of other centre-right perspectives.The EPP is the most influential of...

), after he called Chávez a dictator
Dictator
A dictator is a ruler who assumes sole and absolute power but without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch. When other states call the head of state of a particular state a dictator, that state is called a dictatorship...

 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.

In April 2009 NACLA reported that its observers had found that "the voting in Venezuela’s 2009 referendum was, overall, fair, transparent, and clean."

External links


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