The margin of 51 to 49 percent was decisive in the end, preventing Chavez from manipulating the electoral process into a victory for himself and his plans to give himself effectively the post of Life President. That said he has already foreshadowed a probable re-run in due course:
“This is not a defeat. This is another ‘for now’.”
This was ostensibly a reprise of a famous phrase when, as a red-bereted paratrooper in 1992, he acknowledged on TV he had failed to seize power in a coup attempt.
The chances are, however, that he has been taking his lessons from that other beacon of truth, freedom and democracy, the European Union which has mastered the art of getting the ‘right result’ from plebisicites: hold them again and again until the people get the result right for a change:
“I will not withdraw even one comma of this proposal, this proposal is still alive. For me, this is not a defeat.”
Soon enough, surely, he will want to have a rerun. After all, the prize is a great one for the reforms at stake would have given Chavez:
- Abandonment of the two term-only limit on the Presidency,
- Removal of the autonomy of the central bank and
- Control over foreign currency reserves (which are currently huge, swollen by soaring oil revenues.
- Sweeping powers to expropriate private property
- Power to censor the media during emergencies.
- The right to cut the working day from eight hours to six
- Power to extend social security benefits and pensions to informal workers, such as street vendors
- A lowering of the voting age to 16
- Enshrinement of Socialism as a state priority in the constitution
Meanwhile Chavez has effectively used his acceptance of defeat to polish his ‘democratic’ credentials.
The Huntsman is only too well aware of the fears of decent middle-class Venezuelans that this man will one day turn himself at last into the next Castro, for, through the distaff side, he has extended family numbering several hundred. All are entrepreneurs who have invested heavily in the country since arriving in the 1950s as immigrants from Italy. Already Chavez socialist economic measures have stifled their inclination to invest and to innovate. Had he succeeded at this try for Dictatorship, there is no doubt that their skills would soon find an outlet elsewhere than in Venzuela.
It was ever thus with Socialism.
Now a once-fragmented opposition may have the impetus to get their act together and to ensure that he never has the chance to implement the programme for tyranny that they have just kicked into the long grass. His second term comes to an end in 2012 and if he is held to the terms of the constitution his grasp will be legally removed from the levers of power, though he doubtless has a Plan’C’ for that eventuality too. He has already tried the coup d’état once, so, given his rapacious appetite for power, this may yet feature once more on the menu.