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Message from OAS Secretary General on Venice Commission Opinion on Presidential Reelection

  April 9, 2018

On October 28, 2017, I requested an opinion from the European Commission for Democracy through Law, known as the Venice Commission, on the subject of re-election. Recently, the Commission delivered its final report, which is unmistakable: presidential re-election is not a human right, and preventing re-election does not limit the rights of candidates or voters.

The report confirms the criteria proposed by the Electoral Observation Missions of the OAS.

For this reason, I will send this document to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, and the Inter-American Juridical Committee.

We began this process because of the negative and repeated practice in the region of modifying the Constitution during a term to seek re-election or possible perpetuation in power in presidential systems. In some cases, worse still, attempts were made to do so without constitutional change, through judicial rulings.

In response to our request, the Commission approved a report edited by a diverse group of recognized independent experts in constitutional and electoral issues from South Korea, Spain, the United States, Finland, France and Mexico.

The report contains an exhaustive legal analysis, and concludes that the right to re-election is not a human right in itself, but is derived from the right to political participation and is not violated by the imposition of term limits.

These limits seek to avoid perpetuation in power and to ensure that democracy does not become de facto dictatorship.

That restriction – continues the report – comes from a sovereign decision of the people expressed in the organic part of their Constitution, and not in the chapter on fundamental rights.

Consequently, no one can argue that they have the right to run for re-election following a mandate if the Constitution says otherwise.

For the Venice Commission, the decision to alter or remove the limits of presidential mandates must be subject to public scrutiny, given that this change has a significant impact on the political system, on the stability of the country and on confidence in the electoral system. And, in any case, making this change requires a constitutional reform.

Last, but not least: the Commission concluded that removing the limits on presidential re-election is a step backwards in democratic consolidation.

The report of the Commission´s is not a political opinion. It is a document with full legal validity. Therefore, I have requested that this document be distributed to the member states, with the hope that it will become essential information in the long debate about re-election in the Americas.

Reference: S-011/18