Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
14 June 2007

The doors of Parliament not open to all

On Wednesday I attempted to take 30 US law students on a comparative Constitutional Law course to Parliament to listen to President Thabo Mbeki’s reply to his budget vote in the National Assembly. It was the same day that thousands of workers held a peaceful protest outside the main gates of Parliament.

We made arrangements to collect our tickets to the public gallery a day before the event, but when we arrived at the side gate of Parliament it was firmly locked. The polite but firm policeman informed me that all gates to Parliament had been locked on instructions form his superiors and that no one would be allowed in or out of the Parliamentary precinct for the next several hours.

This meant that I was barred from listening to my President in my Parliament answering his opposition critics. This seems to be in direct contravention of section 59 of the Constitution, which states that Parliament has a constitutional duty to conduct its business in an open manner and to allow the public access to its activities.

Yet, some power drunk fool decided that the workers, demonstrating peacefully more than a hundred meters away, posed such a mortal threat to all MPs and our President, that the gates of Parliament literally had to be locked against its own people.

Who made this heavy-handed decision? Did this person realise that he or she was sending a signal that Parliament and the President was so far removed from or even scared of the workers that it would lock the very doors of the institution against their own people?

The locking of the gates of Parliament on the very day that the President was speaking in the National Assembly, reminds me rather of the days of the apartheid regime when the President and Parliamentarians had good reason to fear the citizens of the country they were supposed to be governing.

It would be nice to think that the person who made this decision would get into serious trouble. Maybe the President – or more correctly, the Speaker – could have a word with someone so that the next time us ordinary people want to hear him speak, we will actually be allowed into the legislature.

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