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THE NEW CONSTITUTION
 

On the eve of the new millennium, Venezuela sports the first Constitution sanctioned directly by the Venezuelan people. On December 15th, 1999, the new constitutional text, subjected to a referendum, gained the support of 70 % of the electors.

The creation of two new powers, the Citizens Power and the Electoral Power, apart from the already existing Executive, Legislative and Judicial Powers, is just one of the most important innovations contained in the Magna Chart. The new Constitution also includes the possibility of immediate presidential reelection, substitutes the national Congress for a single-chamber National Assembly, grants vote for the military and consecrates the pre-eminence of human rights as part of the superior values defended by the State, guaranteeing the rights of the indigenous people.

Another remarkable innovation is the change in the name of the country: as stated in the Transient Resolutions, "the name of the Republic, once this Constitution is approved, shall be Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela," as prescribed in its article 1 and taking effect as of January 1st, 2000, when the Constitution was enforced.

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CONSTITUTION OF THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA (1999)

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CONSTITUTION OF THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA (1999)

   
PUBLIC BODIES
 

Legislative Power

The legislative power is exercised by the National Assembly, previously known as the National Congress, made up of deputies elected in each federal entity. Every federal entity, including the indigenous population, has the right to elect three representatives to the National Assembly.
The Assembly consists of one Chamber, unlike the previous National Congress, which had two Chambers: the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Senators. Following elections on July 30th, 2000, 165 deputies were elected for a period of five years.

To be eligible to become a deputy one has to be older than 21 years of age and have been resident for at least four consecutive years in the corresponding federal entity prior to the date of the election.
The current Magna Chart also accepts the postulation of those citizens who have acquired the Venezuelan nationality and have resided for at least 15 years in Venezuela.

Deputies enjoy immunity in the exercise of their functions from the moment of their proclamation until the end of their term in office or their resignation. Only the Supreme Court of Justice can order the detention of a deputy with the authorization of the National Assembly, following the removal of his or her parliamentary immunity.

Article 187 lists the responsibilities of the National Assembly of which the following should be highlighted:
· To legislate in national affairs
· To reform the Constitution
· To act as a control of Government and Public Administration
· To approve the national budget and public borrowing
· To approve economic policies in general terms
· To authorize the Executive to sign contracts of national interest
· To censure the Vice-President and Ministers
· To authorize the absences of the President from Venezuela
· To approve the international agreements and treaties which the Executive signs, and other functions.

Executive Power

The executive power is exercised by the President, the Vice-President and the Ministers, amongst other officials.

The President is the Head of State and of the National Executive. To be elected President one has to be Venezuelan by birth, possess no other nationality, be more than 30 years of age and with no criminal convictions. The Vice-President has to fulfill the same requisites and moreover, cannot be related in any way to the President.

The Vice-President is the closest collaborator of the Head of State and of the Government and can only be appointed or removed by the President.
The central executive power lays in the hands of 25 ministries, which form the governmental cabinet, the result of the fusion of some ministries, in accordance with the Organic Law of the Central Administration, modified and approved in the Council of Ministers in September 1999.

Judicial Power

The administration of judicial power is the responsibility of the Supreme Tribunal for Justice, of other courts as established by Law, of the Public Ministry, of the Office of the Ombudsman and of other authorities responsible for criminal investigation.

The judicial power is independent and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice enjoys operative, financial and administrative autonomy. The judicial system will be assigned an annual income which varies, but which will never be less than 2% of the ordinary national budget.

The Supreme Tribunal of Justice, previously known as the Supreme Court of Justice, is responsible for the regulation, the direction and the administration of the judicial power, as well as the overseeing and inspection of the courts and the offices of the public defenders.

The Supreme Tribunal of Justice is divided into Plenary, Constitutional, Political-Administrative, Electoral, Civil, Social and Criminal Cassation Courts.

The Magistrates of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice are elected for one period of 12 years.
The most important responsibilities of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice are:
· To exercise constitutional jurisdiction
· To study if there are reasons for impeaching the President, the Vice-President, the members of the National Assembly, the Ministers, the General Solicitor, the General Prosecutor, the Comptroller General, the Ombudsman, the state governors, the Generals and Admirals of the Armed Forces and the Heads of Diplomatic Missions
· To declare the invalidity of administrative acts
· To interpret law
· To decide in conflicts of competence
· To know the resources of cassation, and other functions.

REELECTION

The Constitution of 1961 allowed reelection of the President only 10 years after he had concluded his first term, which he held for five years. In the new Constitution, the official term is extended to six years, and the President and all officers appointed to office through public electoral vote (such as governors, mayors, others) may be reelected indefinitedly for additional terms. The President's mandate, as well as all the official position and magistracies, may be revoked by referendum.

The figures of executive Vice President is created as an organ of direct, close cooperative with the President in the functions of chief of the Executive Power, as well as the figure of the State Council, as a superior organ of consultation of the government and Public Administration. The Vice President heads this latter entity, composed by another eight officers, five of whom are designated by the President and the other three by the National Assembly, a one-chamber legislative organ composed by deputies. The Vice-President represents the President during his absences up to 90 days, which can be extended for a further 90 days by the National Assembly.

The President can dissolve the National Assembly if the latter fails to ratify on 3 occasions within one constitutional period the designated Vice-President. Should this event arise, elections will have to be held for a new legislative within 60 days following the dissolution. The National Assembly cannot be dissolved in the last year of its constitutional period.

Amongst the most important duties of the President, the following should be pointed out:
· To direct the government
· To appoint and remove the Vice-President and Ministers
· To dictate foreign policy
· To sign international treaties
· To direct the Armed Forces
· To declare a state of emergency
· To dictate decrees which have the force of law
· To regulate laws
· To administer Public Finances
· To celebrate treaties of national interest
· To appoint the General Solicitor and the Heads of Diplomatic Missions
· To formulate economic policies
· To grant reprieves
· To determine the number, organization and competence of the ministries
· To dissolve the National Assembly
· To call referenda
· To convoke and preside the National Defense Council.

THE NEW POWERS

The Citizens Power is constituted by the Ombudsman, The Prosecutor General, and the Comptroller General of the Republic, and its functions are "to prevent, investigate into and sanction the acts that offend public ethics and administrative morals; to monitor the good management and legality of the use of public heritage; the fulfillment and application of the principle of legality in all the administrative activities of the State..."

Their joint duties are:
· To prevent, investigate and sanction all acts which infringe upon public ethics and administrative moral
· To ensure the prudent and legal management of the public resources, as well as the compliance with and application of legal norms in public administration
· To promote education as a vehicle of personal development for the citizens, as well as solidarity, liberty, democracy, social responsibility and work.

The responsibilities of the Ombudsman are:
· To protect human rights
· To ensure the correct functioning of public services
· To prevent unconstitutional acts, to impose habeas corpus, to ensure the right to proper legal representation, amongst others
· To urge the General Prosecutor to act against civil servants who have violated human rights
· To protect the rights of the indigenous people
· To promote and disseminate policies on human rights, and other functions

The duties of the Prosecutor General and Public Ministries are:
· To guarantee the rights and constitutional guarantees of the judicial processes
· To ensure the efficient functioning of the administration of justice
· To direct penal investigation
· To carry out penal action, and other functions.

The attributes of the Office of the Comptroller General:
· To exercise fiscal control
· To control public debt
· To carry out administrative investigations
· To urge the Public Prosecutor to initiate judicial procedures as a result of damages caused to public resources
· To exercise control of the administrative process.

The Electoral Power is exercised by the National Electoral Council (CNE) as its ruling organ, and The National Electoral Committee, The Commission of Civil and Electoral Registry and The Commission of Political Participation and Financing as its subordinate organs. Similarly, the directors of the CNE will not be allowed to have connections with organizations of political orientation. Out of a total of five, three of these directors will be proposed by civil society, another one by the faculties of Law and Political Science of the nation's universities, and the fifth one by the Citizens Power. As an innovation, its functions include organizing elections in trade unions, professional associations and political parties.


The duties of the Electoral Power, amongst other, as determined by law, are as follows:
· To establish electoral laws, resolve any doubts and difficulties which might arise in their exercise
· To formulate the budget, which the CNE negotiates directly with the National Assembly and which it administers autonomously
· To issue directives concerning electoral financing and political broadcasting and to apply sanctions when these are ignored
· To declare the complete and/or partial nullity of elections
· The organization, administration, control and supervision of all aspects of elections to public offices, as well as referenda
· To organize elections to trades union, professional corporation and political organizations, as established by law
· To organize electoral processes of grass root organizations, if requested by them to do or asked to do so by the Electoral Court of the Supreme Tribunal for Justice - these organizations would be responsible for cancelling the cost of these elections
· To maintain, organize, direct and supervise the civil and voters´ registries
· To organize the inscription and registration of all political organizations and to check that these comply with the dictates of the Constitution and of Law
· To study all requests of establishing, renewing and dissolving of all political organizations, to determine their legitimate authority, their provisional designation, colour and symbols
· To control, regulate and investigate the financing funds of all political organizations.
The electoral power organizations ensure the equality, trustworthiness, impartiality, transparency and efficiency of the electoral processes, as well as the application of universal suffrage and proportional representation.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The new Magna Chart has 350 articles, 98 more than the Constitution of 1961, out of which 116 are specifically dedicated to Duties, Human Rights and Guarantee, with a chapter on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.

The achievements that are pointed out include, among others, the exclusion of the military justice's competence to process offences to human rights, the imprescriptibility of those offences, the prohibition of amnesty for agents of State involved in such offences and the obligation of the State to repair damages caused to the victims. It also prohibits the forced disappearance of people, acknowledges the right of a healthy environment and establishes the figure of objection of conscience, whereby citizens may refuse to carry out activities against their own code of values, provided this does not violate the general principles of the Constitution.

The existence of indigenous peoples and communities is recognized, as well as their "rights by origin over the lands that ancestrally and traditionally they have occupied, which are necessary to develop and guarantee their ways of living," and whose delimitation shall be done in less than two years. Similarly, the State guarantees a representation of these peoples and communities before the deliberating organs of the federal and local entities where they are settled.