Last week, another unbelievable news story from Venezuela swamped the international media. President Nicolas Maduro decided to shorten the working week of public employees from five to two working days. The idea behind this measure is to save energy due to the Power Crisis that the country is going through.
I have been hearing about this power crisis for a couple of years. Chávez was alive when this topic first came to the table. Back then, nobody believed the situation would reach this point. In 2009, the Chavez administration paid $1.4 billion to Derwick Associates to solve the situation. Yet, the situation has now aggravated. How did Venezuela get to this point?
The Venezuelan Power Crisis
According to Venezuelan officials, the public sector work week was shortened to only two working days in order to save electricity. The extreme drought caused by “El Niño” has caused record low water levels at El Guri Dam, the country’s most important source of electricity. This phenomenon has caused an extreme Power crisis. Even though this is true, outside experts blame the situation on the incompetence of the government, the lack of maintenance of the plants, and the corruption of Derwick Associates, who flew away with huge profits without correctly completing the projects.
The public sector is the biggest job creator in Venezuela with 2.6 million employees. However, opposition leaders have argued that this measure was taken not to save electricity, but to affect the productivity because 60% of the Venezuela’s electricity consumption is residential.Image Source: Reuters
Slowing Down A Possible Referendum
The Venezuelan Constitution provides a clause that gives citizens the right to ask the electoral authorities to call a revocatory referendum against the president after half of his term. This measure may be feasible if there are enough people unsatisfied with the president’s performance. Nicolas Maduro was elected president in April 2013. Since last week, the opposition started the first of many steps required by the National Electoral Council (CNE in Spanish) to call a revocatory referendum.
The process begins by collecting signatures of 1% of the electoral population (197,721). Then these signatures will need to be reviewed by the CNE to confirm they are valid. Afterwards, the same process would be repeated but instead of 1%, the signatures of 20% of the electoral population (approx. 4 million people) would be needed. After confirming the signatures, the CNE will have to call a revocatory referendum in the following 3 days. This referendum would need to take place in the following 90 days. To revoke Maduro, the opposition needs to get at least the same amount of votes that elected Maduro back in 2013, which was 7,857,532.
A Very Tricky Maneuver
It is important to know that some of the time frames during the whole process are counted as working days and not calendar days. Having a working week of two days for the public sector, Maduro’s administration is slowing down the whole process. For example, the CNE has 15 working days after receiving the signatures of the 20% of the electoral population to review them. In a week that has 5 working days it would take 3 weeks, however, with the new 2 working days week, this process would take up to 8 weeks.
There is a very important reason to delay this whole process. If Maduro loses the referendum on 2016, the president of the National Assembly will take over the presidency and will need to call new presidential elections. Currently, the president of the National Assembly is Henry Ramos Allup, an opposition leader. Nevertheless, if Maduro were revoked in 2017, the VicePresident would take charge of the presidency until the end of that term in 2019, the year when the next presidential elections are scheduled.
Despite that Venezuela is living a Power Crisis, the real reason to shorten the week to 2 working days is to slow down and delay all the revocatory process. Some opposition leaders (Spanish BBC) had said that CNE calling for a referendum before the end of 2016 is hard to believe. The hallmark of this “regime” is that they always manipulate the law to their advantage and against the people.
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