Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Parsing the Venezuelan Constitution

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernaíz comment on the Hugo Chávez transition issue. Here's one thing that struck me:

It seems likely that Chávez’s fourth surgery is risky enough that he is not sure he will be able to assume his fourth term on January 10. And Article 233 also says that if a president-elect were to die, resign or be declared physically or mentally incapacitated before being sworn in, it is not the Vice President but the President of the National Assembly that becomes acting president. Currently that is Diosdado Cabello. 
What is more, the Constitution does not specify what would happen if the president-elect is alive, has not resigned nor been officially declared incapacitated, but is not able to be sworn in. Presumably in such a case it would also be the President of the National Assembly who would assume the presidency, since cabinet positions such as the Vice Presidency do not automatically carry-over from one term to the next but must be reconfirmed.

This, of course, is why Chávez felt the need to name Nicolás Maduro as successor with a dedazo. Chávez is afraid he may die before January 10, which would make Cabello the interim president. However, it seems to me that if Chávez is in terrible shape but has not been ruled incapacitated, then he can be sworn in if the Supreme Court is amenable. From Article 231 of the constitution:

Artículo 231. El candidato elegido o candidata elegida tomará posesión del cargo de Presidente o Presidenta de la República el diez de enero del primer año de su período constitucional, mediante juramento ante la Asamblea Nacional. Si por cualquier motivo sobrevenido el Presidente o Presidenta de la República no pudiese tomar posesión ante la Asamblea Nacional, lo hará ante el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia.

Morbid, to be sure. But if the judges come to a hospital room--perhaps even in a foreign country?--the constitution is being followed. Get sworn in, then step down, and Maduro is interim president.


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