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electoral controversy in Venezuela: can elected officials campaign? (part 1)

September 12, 2010

Thanks to Roberto Silvers at Democracy News from Venezuela for alerting me to the following story:

During a Sept. 2 press conference, Vicente Díaz, a member of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral / CNE), denounced Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s use of his presidential power in order to promote candidates from his party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Pártido Socialista Unida de Venezuela / PSUV), in upcoming elections. Here’s a subtitled clip (originally from Globovisión) of Diaz’s press conference:

On the 8th, the President of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, announced that the council had:

…discarded those accusations in the sense that regional, municipal, [and] national elected leaders at any level are also political actors, they are actors and subjects of political rights and the Constitution, laws, and regulations authorize them to exercise just those political rights like all the citizens of this country.

…desechado esas denuncias en el sentido que los mandatarios regionales, municipales, nacionales de cualquier nivel son actores también políticos, son actores y sujetos de derechos políticos y la Constitución, las leyes y el reglamento los habilita para ejercer justamente esos derechos políticos como todos los ciudadanos y las ciudadanas de este país.

According to an AVN article (which is all I have to go on), Díaz replied that that he will respect the council’s decision, since it was the outcome of a vote, but that he remains in disagreement. It boils down to conflicting interpretations of Venezuelan law. Here’s Díaz’s first line of argument:

…the law is permissive because it should absolutely bar high ranking public officials from participating in election campaigns. “But the law allows it”[, said Díaz.]”

…la ley es permisiva porque debería excluir la participación absoluta de los funcionarios públicos de alto rango en las campañas electorales. “Pero la ley lo permite”[, dijó Díaz.]

This isn’t really an argument, so much as a complaint. Díaz acknowledges that the law doesn’t preclude high ranking public officials from campaigning, but he laments this and implies that the law should be changed. I’m trying to think about it in the US context, and I don’t think I’d support that kind of a law. I want the sitting President (from whichever party or ideology) to be able to respond to campaign rhetoric. I don’t see much harm in her or his speaking at $500-a-plate dinners, either – though there’s a lot about the campaign finance system that I’d like to see changed. So I’m in disagreement with Díaz, but it’s a moot point according to current Venezuelan law.

The second argument is the crucial one, because Díaz interprets the law one way, and Lucena another. Here’s the AVN’s version of Díaz’s perspective:

…regulation 6 of the Law of Electoral Procedures notes the difference between citizens and officials, since the latter cannot promote candidates or speak against another candidate while exercising their official duties.

…el reglamento número 6 de la Ley Orgánica de Procesos Electorales marca la diferencia entre los ciudadanos y los funcionarios, pues a estos últimos les exige que mientras estén en el ejercicio de sus funciones no puede promover candidatos ni hablar en contra de una opción.

As we saw above, Lucena counters that the Constitutionally guaranteed right to participate in the political process trumps any special responsibilities attached to a high ranking public position:

“… [officials] are political actors with political rights and the law and regulations empower them as political actors  like any citizen of this country”.

“… son actores políticos sujetos de derechos políticos y la ley y el reglamento lo que los habilita como actores políticos como cualquier ciudadano de este país”. [AVN]

So that’s the layout of the debate. In part two of this story, I’ll take you through my attempts to find out what exactly Venezuelan law does have to say about this issue. The results surprised me.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2010 6:20 pm

    As you state, Venezuelan law does not prohibit public officials from participating in the campaign. However, it does prohibit the use of:

    1) public resources (including state media); and
    2) the advantages of public office.

    The problem in Venezuela is not that President Hugo Chavez has his favorites in the election and that he participates in campaign events. The problem is that the extremely large Venezuelan state media machine is utilized to promote events which the president participates in.

    Outside of major cities, government radio and TV are the only news sources to which the population has access. In the first 15 days of the campaign, President Chavez was on-the-air an average of 4 hours each day (4 x 15 = 60 hours total), including 8 hours in nationwide “blanket broadcasts” (cadena nacional).*

    The US equivalent would be the following:

    1) From October 1-15, 2010, President Barack Obama will participate in 60 hours of televised campaign events for the Democratic Party with an eye toward the November congressional elections.

    2) All national broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, etc.) are required by law to air 8 of those hours (nearly 30 minutes daily). The remaining 52 hours will be broadcast in their entirety on NPR, PBS, CSPAN 1, 2 and 3.

    3) Any US non-profits registered to monitor the election process will be required to have prior approval of their observation plans by the federal government. These organizations will also be prohibited from commenting on the electoral process prior to election day. In addition, their report on the elections can be submitted only to the federal government (i.e. not publicly or to media).

    Does this sound like a “free and fair” electoral environment?

    ###

    PS – Thank you Transdeuce for the mention and link.

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  1. electoral controversy in Venezuela: can elected officials campaign? (part 2) « transd[e]uce

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