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