The Simple Majority Con – Emiliana Duarte

Letting the opposition win a simple majority of seats may be just what the doctor ordered in terms of stabilizing the regime, co-opting the opposition’s leadership and entrenching chavismo in power. 

Caracas Chronicles -December 1, 2015

So everyone and their mothers is predicting an unprecedented defeat for chavismo in the upcoming legislative elections, which translates to an historic victory for the opposition, and the dawn of change for Venezuela.

What’s the worst that could happen?

The opposition could win a simple majority in the National Assembly (AN). That’s what.

An opposition simple majority in the AN is all the government needs to ensure a modicum of stability, buy itself some governance, and silence those pesky international critics who question the state of our democracy, while affording the MUD very little room for effective political action.

Which pretty much sucks, unless that’s what the opposition wants.

First, the basics:

– Simple majority = 84 diputados.

– ⅗ majority = 101 diputados.

– ⅔ majority = 112 diputados.

For a full description of what kind of powers each majority has click here.

So why is 50% + 1 a honeypot?! A simple majority gives you quorum, yes, which allows the assembly to sit. Beyond that, it largely brings some administrative perks, and then allows you to propose certain things and call for others. We could approve presidential trips abroad, sure, elect the assembly’s own leadership and appoint special oversight committees. But all the yummy powers require a 3/5ths or a 2/3rd majority, or a signature from either the TSJ or some other government-controlled body (such as the poetically named Moral Council of the Republic, which boasts the likes of this guy , and this bastion of disinterested virtue).

Ah! but what about legislating, you ask?

The dirty little secret is that what a simple majority can do is fluid, and that fluidity is never going to work in your favor unless, of course, you happen to control the executive branch and the Supreme Tribunal as well. If you do, then a simple majority becomes whatever you want it to be. Kind of like that song from journey.

Take, for example, when back in 2004, the chavista caucus controlled 56% of AN seats, and lacked the ⅔ majority required to pass Organic Laws. No biggie. They just ignored that rule, and approved the Ley Orgánica del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, by mayoría simple.

In a balls-to-the-wall violation of the Constitution, 92 government party yea’s not only modified the number of Supreme Court (TSJ) magistrates to make room for 12 die-hard chavista judges, but subsequently changed the law so that future TSJ nominations would also require a simple majority approval after 3 rounds of voting. 

But simple majority versatility works both ways.

Like in December of 2010, when an overwhelmingly chavista AN that had enjoyed five years of virtually unopposed domination suddenly realized their total legislative control would be downgraded to simple majority in a matter of days, now that 67 recently elected MUD diputados were standing in the way of ⅔ and ⅗ votes. 

They just went ahead and changed what simple majority means, and called it a day.

Remember when, back in 2005, the AN was completely red, and Art. 111 of the internal debate rules (RID) stated that a ⅗ majority vote was needed in order to call for closure of a debate? Guess how many votes are needed once the rules were modified by the outgoing AN in 2010? Simple majority.

Or how about that ⅗ majority requirement for revoking a plenary decision, as per Art. 111 of the 2005 RID? After 2010, that’s up to a simple majority, too.

Here’s a good one: According to Art. 107 of the 2005 RID, stripping a diputado of their speaking rights for the remainder of that day’s session was subject to a ⅗ majority vote. Now it only takes a – you guessed it – simple majority, to silence a diputado, FOR UP TO A MONTH.

After Cilia Flores and her wrecking crew bulldozed over 64 Articles of the RID that fateful last week of 2010, a determined group of incoming MUD diputados challenged this decision before the TSJ.

And, of course, they got properly ignored.

The point is, a simple majority, meaning an opposition victory, is only as good as this government wants – or will allow it – to be. And in this case, it’s the perfect vehicle for appeasement. Because while the MUD will be busy celebrating its formal triumph, the TSJ will be hard at work making sure nothing of substance gets done. And, to quote Journey once again, that’s exactly the way they want it.

Of course, there’s always the chance that MUD will win by a landslide. Here’s hoping that we do. But let’s get real: Chavismo has been calling the shots for the last 15 years. It would be naïve to think that an opposition win this coming Sunday isn’t playing right into the hands of those who excel at nothing, except for staying in power.

Which leads me to wonder what our opposition wants.

Dorothy Kronick’s piece lucidly hints at a MUD-Chavismo negotiation that I wholeheartedly believe is in the works, and that I am deeply distrustful of. But unlike Dorothy, who gives the opposition bloc the upper hand at the negotiating table, I happen to think it’s certain factions of the MUD who crawled up to knock on Chavismo’s door back in 2014, in a move that is purely driven by self-interest, at best; survival instincts, at most.

Please don’t peg me as a hater: I can speak personally to the monumental efforts that the MUD is making to organize voters and carry out the most incredible elections day operation ever. There are hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans toiling night and day right now motivated by the very hope that this Sunday will signal a new beginning for us all. I am giving MUD leadership the benefit of the doubt.

But this I will say: Earlier this year, every party within the MUD signed an agreement which bound them to “activate constitutional mechanisms for political change so that solutions may occur in the first trimester of 2016.”

And after 15 years’ worth of experience as a political opposition, our MUD leadership should be anything but stupid. They know what’s up.

So if our elected representatives, the ones pining for our votes right now, are held to their word, then they, more than anyone, should understand that a simple majority win, far from being a chance to legislate, is the smartest play that Chavismo has to divide and conquer. They must capitalize on this win and channel it towards the right direction. Otherwise, they will, unwittingly or not, play right into the hands of a government desperate for validation.

If, come 2016, our caucus gets caught up in the daily grind of AN procedural bullshit, instead of focusing their game on delegitimizing whatever powers stand in between our electoral victory and regime change, then we will know that they’re happy to be cohabitants, and not promoters of change, like they said they would be.

For now, I choose a self-knowing kind of denial. Journey knows what’s what.

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