December 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Chavez loses referendum

Maybe there is hope for Venezuela after all. Voters narrowly rejected the constitutional revision that would have given President Hugo Chavez virtual dictatorial powers, 51%-49% in relative light turnout. This was the first time Chavez has lost an election since ascending to the presidency in 1999, and people on all sides were taken aback by this reversal of fortune. There were celebrations in the streets of Caracas, but this time it was the opponents of Chavez. For his part, Chavez said he respected the voters' decision, showing a rare glimpse of his more sensible, reflective side. Having set such low standards for himself over the past eight years, any reasonable gesture at all by him is greatly magnified. Nevertheless, Chavez also vowed to press ahead with his revolutionary agenda. That presumably means that voters will be presented with a similar, perhaps watered-down version of the constitutional revision in another year or two. Otherwise, he will be obliged to leave office when his term expires in 2013, and from what we know of Chavez, it would take a miracle to get him to give up power voluntarily. See BBC. One of the comments made by Chavez perfectly illustrates his vain contempt for his people:

Could Hugo Chavez make a mistake some time? It could be. It may be that we are not yet mature enough to withstand the socialist "bombardment." * ... Before looking for the guilty ones, I have to say that I may have erred in choosing the wrong time to make the proposal. That could be. (SOURCE: El Universal)

* In this context, I think his use of the word bombardeo refers to the period of revolutionary tumult accompanying the transition to a socialist system. In any case, the lower-than-expected turnout among the lower-class people that Chavez counts on may indicate the weariness that many people in Venezuela are starting to feel, after eight full years of noisy turbulence wrought by their hot-headed jefe. If so, Chavez is unlikely to fare any better in future elections. He will certainly win more political battles in the future, but now that his aura of invincibility has been undermined, there is a good chance that many people will start to think for themselves and consider whether his agenda is in their best interests.