I Thought Dictators Couldn’t Lose Elections!

It has been said that this
outcome is not an indication of a growing opposition but rather
reflects those who have traditionally been supportive of Chavez but
remain tied to a bureaucratic vision of governance and do not want
their own power challenged.

By Carlos Martinez
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Sunday night was a very tense evening for all in Venezuela, awaiting the
final results of the referendum while varying rumors about the outcome
came every few minutes with the only certainty being that the vote was
closer than many expected.   I was in front of Miraflores, the
presidential palace, at the time the results were released.  As one can
imagine, there were many teary eyes and bowed heads in what was a
particularly perplexing moment for a people not accustomed to losing
for a very long time.  

The image that appeared on the massive video screens in front of the
palace immediately after the results were read was that of an unusually
somber faced Chavez. What followed may have been even more unexpected
for those in the opposition and weary of Chavez’s unrelenting bravado.
In contrast to the lack of diplomacy that many now associate him with,
Chavez went on to gracefully concede the election and congratulated his
adversaries.  This was especially significant considering the closeness
of the margin, with 4,504,354 votes against, (50.70%) and 4,379,392,
(49.29%) for the YES. Chavez went on to say that he was happy to see
the election end peacefully.

While many in the progressive community have been trying to argue that
democracy is in fact alive and well in Venezuela for so long now, it
has been a difficult argument to maintain with Chavez always on the
winning side. Certainly, Chavez’s concession of the vote and his
request that those in favor of the SI recognize the results serves to
delegitimize those that continue to call Chavez an “aspiring tyrant” as
Donald Rumsfeld did in his editorial released yesterday entitled ““The
Smart Way to Beat Tyrants Like Chávez” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/30/AR2007113001800.html)

The opposition response has been jubilant.  The irony is thick
considering what a response from the opposition might have looked like
if the results were switched.  There were reports that opposition
groups were already found to be printing shirts reading “Fraud”.
Something that has been particularly interesting in the last few
months has been to see the way the opposition has come to embrace the
1999 constitution as their own, adding to the irony, since many of
these same people were vehemently opposed to the that constitution’s
passing.  

However the opposition has also been forced to recognize that many
people did in fact want to see the constitutional reforms pass, leading
them towards  a new rhetoric. Former Chavez ally, General Isaias
Baduel, who came out against the reforms has emerged as a new leader
amongst the opposition.  Calling for national reconciliation yet
continuing to champion inclusion of the popular sectors, he is
essentially establishing a more moderate opposition pole. Meanwhile,
Manuel Rosales, governor of Zulia State and losing candidate in the
last presidential elections has said that he will support the creation
of a “Social Fund for the Self-Employed”, one of the articles proposed
in the constitutional reform.  

A TIME FOR REFLECTION & EVALUATION

December has arrived and Venezuela basically closes down at this time
of year. It will be an important time for reflection for those in
support of the Bolivarian process.  

There are many reasons that one could offer to explain the outcome of
this election.  Many are pointing to the powerful disinformaton
campaign launched by the opposition with heavy financial support from
the United States. It is true that to a great degree the constitutional
changes themselves were not actually voted on yesterday, but rather
peopele’s perceptions of the reform.  Many did go to polls still
believing that their children or their third car or their home could be
taken away by the government, although in reality the reform did
not contain any such articles and actually reiterated its recognition
of private property.  

It is evident that many in the Chavista camp abstained from voting or
actually voted against the referendum.  It has been said that this
outcome is not an indication of a growing opposition but rather
reflects those who have traditionally been supportive of Chavez but
remain tied to a bureaucratic vision of governance and do not want
their own power challenged.  There has also been talk of
disillusionment amongst the popular sectors, the poor and working class
citizens who have been considered the real base of support for the
Bolivarian Revolution. Partially this is seen as a result of the
effects of this bureaucratic class widely perceived as a primary cause
for the continuing disfunction within the revolution. As I write this,
a spontaneous concentration has formed outside of Miraflores Palace
demanding a “house cleaning” to remove the corruption pervading the
process.

Additionally, some believe that the way the constitutional reforms were
proposed was not as inclusive as it should have been of these popular
sectors.  While this constitutional reform did receive a wide amount of
consultation from a variety of social movements, there are some who
believe that the participation was not profound enough for a country
seeking to establish a radical model of democracy and whose citizens
want to truly be at the forefront of change.  

Regardless of what the actual reasons were for the outcome, those
supporting more radical changes will undoubtedly be in a state of
serious evaluation to try to figure out what this means for Venezuela
and the Bolivarian Revolution.  Chavez proclaimed in his concession
speech “por ahora no pudimos”, for now we could not, repeating the
famous phrase he made in 1992 after his failed attempt at taking power
through staging a military coup.  Many are hopeful that this is another
necessary step needed for the Bolivarian Revolution to evolve and
deepen, possibly even beyond Chavez and with a greater focus on doing
base building at the grassroots.  Indeed many of the changes proposed
did not need to be made through the process of a constitutional reform
and many believe that the next steps needed to deepen the process such
as the expansion of the communal councils, the acceleration of the land
reform, and the growth of a grassroots economy really depend on the
role that social movements play and how determined the government is in
supporting them.