Venice Commission constitutional experts today have determined that attempts by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to prepare a new constitution have many shortcomings that “undermine democratic credibility.”
The Council of Europe’s experts replied to a request last month for an opinion from the Organization of American States (OAS) to comment on “legal issues” that have been raised by the Venezuelan President's call for elections to a National Constituent Assembly, in order to craft a new constitution.
The National Constituent Assembly is a constitutional convention called by the president and made up of elected delegates that have the power to draw up an entirely new constitution and even reorganise the branches of the government.
The Venezuelan president had issued three decrees (2830 of 1 May 2017, 2878 of 23 May 2017 and 2878 of 4 June 2017), to call for the election of a National Constituent Assembly, to fix the rules for such an election and to encourage the National Constituent Assembly to submit the draft constitution to referendum.
In its opinion, the Venice Commission found that the power of the President of the Republic to call the elections of a National Constituent Assembly without holding a referendum is questionable. The Commission also found that under the Constitution and under rule of law standards, the President does not have the power to decide on the rules for the elections of the Constituent Assembly, and that the rules which he has decided in his decree – a combination of territorial and sectoral representation – grossly violate the democratic principle of equality of vote.
The Commission has stressed the absolute necessity of “substantive debate involving the various political forces, non-government organizations and citizens associations, academia and media,” in order to adopt a “sustainable text, acceptable for the whole of the society and in line with democratic standards.” It called for an “unhindered exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, as well as a fair, adequate and extensive broadcasting of the arguments by the media."