In further, and hopefully final, news on the Venezuelan constitutional reform front, (which I talked about earlier here,) Chavez’s proposed reforms were defeated in the public referendum, 51% to 49%. Given his almost complete lack of opposition in the Venezuelan Congress, these reforms were starting to seem inevitable, so I was both surprised and relieved to hear that the public had voted them down.
The NPR story from this morning noted that the “No” campaign had been aided by some recent rather high profile “defections” from Chavez’s camp:
High-profile defections had strengthened the opposition in recent weeks. Among them was the former Chavez loyalist and Defense Minister Raul Baduel. He stepped down this summer and later condemned the constitutional package Chavez proposed as an undemocratic grab for power.
“The nature of the Constitution does not permit one side or another to compromise it,” Baduel said. “It is a contract … between the people and the state.”
The BBC article (linked above) pointed out a possible interpretation of the interesting percentage of abstentions:
BBC Americas reporter, Julian Miglierin, says many analysts are pointing to the abstention rate of 44%.
He says the bulk of those who abstained are thought to be Chavez supporters who chose not to endorse the reforms, while voters backing the opposition turned out in droves.
I’m happy to see the people of Venezuela exercising a bit of a rein on their leader. As I said before, these reforms looked an awful lot like the first steps toward setting up a “legal” dictatorship. Certainly there are many people in Venezuela whose lives have been improved by some of Chavez’s policies, but it is still very, very good to see that they aren’t willing to give away the democratic process in exchange, despite the temptation (not to mention some of Chavez’s more bullying tactics.)
I’m hopeful that Chavez’s apparently graceful acceptance of the vote will mean that this will indeed be the end of this issue for now. He does still hold office until 2013, and he’ll probably bring up similar reforms again later, but it looks doubtful that this will lead to a coup, and, as the analysts referenced at the end of the BBC article say, the vote may “cause him to rethink the pace and scope of his reforms.”
-posted by Dana