Referenda and the Venezuelan Constitution

October 27, 2002


President Chavez regularly accuses the opposition of trying to stage a coup de etat and saying that a referendum to revoke his mandate may not be possible until August of 2003. The problem is that while the Constitution says in Article 72:

“Todos los cargos y magistraturas de elección popular son revocables. Transcurrida la mitad del período para el cual fue elegido el funcionario, un número no menor del veinticinco (25) por ciento de los electores inscritos en la correspondiente circunscripción, podrá solicitar la convocatoria de un referendo para revocar su mandato”

Which means ” All positions and magistratures which are popularly elected are revocable. After the midpoint of the term for which a functionary was elected, a number no less than than 25% of the registered voters may ask to have a referendum to revoke his mandate”

 the problem is that Article 71 also says:

“Las materias de especial trascendencia nacional podrán ser sometidas a referendo consultivo, por iniciativa del Presidente de la República en Consejo de Ministros, por acuerdo de la Asamblea Nacional, aprobado por el voto de la mayoría de los miembros de cada Cámara, o a solicitud de un número no menor del diez por ciento de los electores inscritos en el registro electoral nacional”


Which means:


“Matters of special national  transcendence may be subject to a consulting referendum , by initiative of the President in the Council with his Ministers, the National Assembly, approved by a majority or at the request of no less than 10% of the voters registered in the national electoral registry”


This article is the one that the opposition is using to call for a consultive referendum on whether Hugo Chavez should resign or not. The difference is just that it would not be binding if Chávez lost. But it certainly is a legal procedure that would undermine Chavez’ ability to govern if he were to lose it by a large margin, which we think he will. In fact, if the opposition convinced 50% of the Deputies in the National Asembly that would be sufficient to hold the referendum. This may yet happen.


A final comment is that while Hugo Chavez says the revocatory referendum may take place only after August 2003, this is not the case. The Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled that Chávez’ new term began in January 2001, thus a revocatory referendum could only take place after January 2004. This is part of the Chavez lore, where he said something once and has become the truth even if it isn’t.


(Warning: The articles of the Constitution cited above may depend on the version you consult, yes there are multiple versions of the Venezuelan Constitution. If you use Google, the first one says they are article 75 and 74, the next one 72 and 71 and they are both Government websites. Thanks to Antonio Guzman Blanco for reminding me that one has to be extremely careful with this.)

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