Decision of the Constitutional Chamber on Interpretation of article 231 of the Constitution
The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice issued decision No. 02, dated January 9, 2013, whereby it resolved on the request for interpretation of the scope and content of article 231 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Following are the most important points:
(i) The absence of President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías from the territory of the Republic must not be deemed to automatically constitute a temporary absence in the terms of article 234 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, unless it has been so expressly established by the President of the Republic through a Decree specially drafted to that end.
(ii) In spite of the fact that a new constitutional term begun on January 10, a new inauguration is not necessary in the case of President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, in his capacity as re-elected President, since there is no interruption in the exercise of his functions.
(iii) A re-elected President may take oath after January 10, 2013 before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, if he is not able to take oath on said day before the National Assembly, according to article 231 of the National Constitution. Said act will be set by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice after there is evidence that the supervened causes that prevented the President from taking oath have ceased.
(iv) The Executive Power (constituted by the President, Vice-president, Ministers, and other entities and officers of the Administration) will continue to fully exercise its functions on the basis of the principle of administrative continuity.
Position of the oppostion leaders.
The executive secretary of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, informed that the leaders of the opposition alliance were holding meetings with several lawyers in order to define the actions to be taken in Venezuela and abroad in order to defend what the Constitution establishes in relation to the new constitutional term that began on January 10, 2013.
He stated that “(…) the organized opposition will do everything possible, “within liberty and civility”, in order to defend constitutionality and he recalled that a statement had already been sent to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, warning of the Government’s violations of the Constitution”.
Aveledo stated that “(…) the criterion that has always prevailed in the opposition is the same as that of the Prosecutor of the Republic, Luisa Ortega Díaz: there is a temporary absence of the President, “which is not a failure to recognize that he holds said position.”
Also, “(…) he assured that the MUD (“Mesa de la Unidad Democrática”) has stated several times that, while President Hugo Chávez recovers from his illness, it is the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, who has to take office, since, unlike Nicolás Maduro, he was elected by popular vote. The opposition has stated that the functions of Maduro and President Chávez’s executive cabinet expire today, January 10, 2013, due to which they may not continue to be in office.”
Aveledo clarified “that the temporary absence of the President has a limit: 90 days, extendible for another 90 days, which is considered by him as a long period of time”. Likewise, he said that “(…) the TSJ should also appoint a medical board to evaluate the situation of the President”.
Venezuelan lawyers’ position.
Venezuelan jurists, ex-justices, and experts in Constitutional Law rejected the interpretation of article 231 made by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and detracted from the validity of the criterion stated about the continuity of the administrative functions.
They state that “(…) what is most serious about the decision that interprets article 231 of the Constitution is that it endorses the indefinite absence of the President of the Republic (…)”.
They also state that “(…) The constitutional term is not extendible. The President does not have a substitute: on January 10, the members of the Executive Power cease to hold office and the Vice-President loses legitimacy for juridical acts (…)”.
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 “Lawyers reject government supporters’ criterion about continuity and the decision of the TSJ”, Diario El Nacional, January 10, 2013, Page 3.
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