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CARACAS, Wednesday January 02, 2013 | Update
 
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CHÁVEZ'S HEALTH

Venezuelan high court: no need to clarify the inauguration day

In May 2001, the Constitutional Court stated that Article 231 of the Constitution "is explicit"

In 2001, the Constitutional Court concluded that the rule on inauguration needed no clarification (File Photo: Vicente Correale)
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JUAN FRANCISCO ALONSO |  EL UNIVERSAL
Wednesday January 02, 2013  06:11 PM
As January 10 approaches, the discussion about the possibility of postponing the ceremony where reelected President Hugo Chávez should be sworn in at the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) sparks again. And the expectation grows about the decision to be issued by the Constitutional Court of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), where two requests for a ruling have been lodged already. Pursuant to Article 231 of the Venezuelan Constitution, January 10 has been set as the beginning of a new presidential term.

Notwithstanding, the high court has ruled that the inauguration of the Head of State at the legislature should take place, neither before nor after, but on that very day.

"Articles 230, 231, 192 and 219 of the Constitution need no clarification whatsoever, as their contents are explicit," declared in May 2001, the interpreter of the Constitution in reply to an appeal for construction made by then Congress Speaker William Lara to determine the exact day of beginning and end of the terms in office of both the Venezuelan president and congresspersons. Such incumbencies were re-legitimized in July 2000, upon the entry into force of the new Constitution.

"The term in office of the President of the Republic is six years, and the inauguration shall be by means of a sworn-in ceremony at the National Assembly, on the tenth day of January of the first year of the constitutional term," the Court ratified, thus dismissing the assumption of several jurists and opponents. The latter contested that the first six-year term in office of President Chávez should end on August 19, 2006, for having taking office on August 19, 2000.

Under judgment N 759, drafted by retired judge José Manuel Delgado Ocando, the Court would rather extend the presidential term for almost five months, indulging the controversial "tip" to the Head of State. It also made the presidential term to end on January 10, 2007, as stipulated in Article 231 of the Constitution. Otherwise, the Court warned "the Constitution would have to be amended," or article 231 would have to be ignored, "which would be unconstitutional."
While the judgment clarifies that the inauguration at the National Assembly should take place on the very January 10, it failed to refer to another possibility set forth in the Constitution: The sworn-in ceremony at the TSJ in the event of an unexpected occurrence.

Precisely the latter scenario will be elaborated by the Constitutional Court, sources of the judiciary said. "The Constitution does not set any term if the president-elect cannot appear at the Parliament, for he/she to appear instead at the TSJ."

On January 10, nothing will be dispelled

The former Dean of the Faculty of Juridical and Political Sciences, Central University of Venezuela (UCV), Alberto Arteaga Sánchez, is afraid that "January 10 has been magnified as the magic day where the masses will emerge from uncertainty. Undoubtedly, we have the right to live without uncertainty. In a democratic society, serious, transcendental affairs such as the health of the Head of State should be addressed with absolute clarity and transparency, without secrecy leading to rumors that just feed citizens' uneasiness."

To the jurist's mind, "The Constitution has clear and not very clear things concerning temporary or absolute absence of the president."

Arteaga thinks that should President Chávez not show up on that day before deputies to be sworn-in, this does not mean the declaration of his absolute absence, nor does it automatically open the doors to a new election.

"The president-elect of the Republic should take office on the tenth (day of January), except for absolute or temporary absence. Therefore, if the inauguration is not feasible, the nature of the failure to appear should be ascertained." "If the absence is classified as absolute, an election should be held within 30 consecutive days. If the absence is classified as temporary, it should not exceed 90 consecutive days that may be extended for a similar, 90-day term, in accordance with the regular scheme on absence."

Translated by Conchita Delgado
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