The first judgment issued by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice this year, specifically on 5 January, prohibits double partisan militancy, which implies the possibility that the National Electoral Council publishes the lists of all political organizations and the discrimination mechanisms that were applied on the basis of the Tascón list be reissued.
It is an apparently out of time ruling, because it is the answer given to the interpretation recourse of article 67 of the Constitution and articles 10, 16 and 25 of the Law of Political Parties, filed by the lawyer César Elías Burguesa Villegas on 1 June 2015. At that time the opposition parties agglutinated in the Democratic Unity Roundtable debated on the use of a single card as an option to defeat the ruling party in the parliamentary elections on 6 December.
The Constitutional Chamber ruled beyond the doubts raised by the complainant and emphasized the prohibition of double partisan militancy. “It can become an illegal practice of many political parties that are constituted in appearance of legality, using the identity of militants of other organizations for political purposes, without due legitimacy and compliance with any procedure. Cannot legally belong to two political parties at the same time, and its occurrence weakens democracy, its transparency and its electoral integrity,” states the decision made on the basis of the presentation prepared by the former pro-government deputy Juan José Mendoza.
Vicente Bello, electoral technician of Un Nuevo Tiempo, warns that the TSJ made a restrictive interpretation of the rules, since neither in the Constitution nor in the law double membership is prohibited.
Copei’s Aníbal Sánchez adds that this restriction is expressly established in the legal system of other countries, because in them there is public financing of political parties, but it is not Venezuela’s case. “In addition, the judgment would prevent a person from changing partisan militancy whenever he/she wants, which is absurd,” insists the expert.
The problem is to sign
The ruling orders the National Electoral Council to regulate the new census of all political parties, with the exception of the PSUV or the MUD, either because they did not obtain 1% of the votes in the last elections or because they did not nominate with their own cards.
“It will be necessary to wait for the 60 days granted to the CNE to elaborate the mentioned regulation, but fundamental rights like freedom of expression, the right of association and the exercise of suffrage in conditions of equality and without fear of reprisals could be threatened. In that sense, this judgment, which has gone almost unnoticed, should cause concern both to party leaders and to citizens in general. Think of those who lost their jobs and access to government social programs; Let us think of those who had to emigrate because of the persecution as a result of the Tascón list,” says Carlos Luna, director of the School of Political Studies at the Universidad Central de Venezuela.
At first glance, the TSJ ruling affects both the opposition and the government alike. “But it can serve to foment disputes between the parties that make up the MUD, for example in order to choose unitary candidates for the next elections of governors and mayors. And, as for the ruling party, to prevent dissident parties from appearing from sectors that, for example, recognize themselves as chavistas but not as maduristas or cabellistas,” says Bello.
The most controversial aspect of the judgment is that, for the purpose of renewing the parties rosters, the TSJ equates notions of militant and registered: “This prohibition, from the militants’ point of view as supporters of a certain organization, means that they cannot appear on the roster of two parties, because this inevitably generates the invalidation for unlawfulness of one of the two organizations.”
In the opinion of the electoral technician of Acción Democrática Felix Arroyo, such a comparison is a mistake, since a person can endorse with his/her signature the existence of several political parties, also, some of the ruling party and others of the opposition, without this meaning that they are militants of some of them.
“The problem is to sign, because we have the precedent of the Tascón list. Let’s not forget that every autocracy, like the one that rules Venezuela at the moment, is based on fear,” says Luna.
“To avoid double membership, -adds Vicente Bello- the CNE will update the lists of those registered in each party. And we do not know what use it will give to it, especially considering that the TSJ explicitly urged it to use electronic or computer security mechanisms, which appear to be fingerprint authentication machines.”
The executive secretary of the MUD, Jesús Torrealba, analyzes the situation from an essentially political perspective: “I see it as an already overcome issue. Our last primaries were with fingerprint authentication machines. We carry them out in twice the circuits and we obtain twice the participation in comparison with the previous process of selection of our candidates. I am not saying that the TSJ ruling is not a source of concern; but, above all, I claim the firmness 8 million voters gave us to challenge the government. We are no longer defenseless victims and if a reform of the Law of Political Parties is necessary, we will do it. Otherwise, I do not believe that the solitary political project that Nicolás Maduro embodies is in position to apply instruments of coercion such as the Tascón list. The country changed.”
In the electoral rectors’ hands
The judgment of the Constitutional Chamber could serve to prevent recurrence of what the MUD denounced as a ruse: the location of the official party card Min Unit next to the one corresponding to the Democratic Unity Roundtable, although both were very similar. “The graphic identification of the party has real importance in its presentation to the public, which must be controlled by the electoral body, since there can be no similarity of names and symbols of political parties”, indicates the ruling. It also includes another provision that revives the debate about the impartiality of the CNE: “The data of the registered voters of a political party must be at the order of the electoral body to avoid that the identity of those citizens is violated and manipulated by some political organization, in order to be added as roster of another political party”. The risk, according to the experts, is that the disclosure of this data obeys other unutterable purposes, including the application of mechanisms of discrimination for political reasons.
On 1 February 2004, the CNE’s board authorized the pro-government deputy Luis Tascón to photocopy all the signatures collected by the opposition to recall the mandate of President Hugo Chávez. With these inputs the “Tascón list” was elaborated, that served to retaliate against all those that appeared in that register. The abuses were reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by three of the victims: Rocío San Miguel, Magally Chang and Thaís Peña, National Frontiers Council’s officials who were fired for signing. The matter is expected to be brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
When a National Political Party does not present its electoral card (symbols and party’s logos) as an electoral offer in a national election, that political group will lack of identity and, therefore, cannot legitimize its party-line vote, which is the referential vote to which this ruling refers by dispelling question number 1 of the complainant. Accordingly, the political party must undergo renewal before the electoral body (…) double membership is prohibited, so a political party duly registered in the National Electoral Council (CNE) in accordance with what in the law is established, cannot add its list of registered members to that of another Political Party without losing its existence”.