The Chávez Path

The president's referendum victory indicates that a clear majority of Venezuelans support him and the issue of terms is irrelevant.

Venezuela's constitutional referendum
on Sunday, alongside other recent elections, gives a clear, not simple,
picture of what the people want. A comfortable majority, 54% (against
46%), backed the amendment that will allow President Chávez to run for
office again in 2012. This suggests the population broadly wants to
continue the overall path begun by Chávez 10 years ago.

contrast, a constitutional referendum in 2007, which included this
issue, was lost because it was proposed along with more than 60 other
measures – many of which were not understood, let alone supported, by
the majority.

In last year's regional and local elections, the
Chávistas won control of the great majority of state and local
governments. However, they lost ground in the capital, Caracas, and in
some of the most urban and economically important parts of the country.

reflected significant dissatisfaction with the pace of improvement in
the cities blighted by vast shanty towns and the acute problems of
waste disposal, transport and crime. These issues have so far been
addressed far less effectively than the breathtaking improvements in
healthcare, education and the reduction of poverty.

The number of
people living in extreme poverty has halved in the last 10 years.
Infant mortality has fallen by more than a third. The number of GPs
providing free public healthcare has increased exponentially and number
of students entering higher education has doubled. The cities need
massive investment and reform to carry these improvements through into
other areas that determine people's quality of life and the overall
efficiency of the economy.

In these circumstances, it is easy to
see why Venezuelans should vote to continue along the path mapped out
by Chávez, by allowing him to stand for re-election while punishing
incompetent local politicians and giving the government a wake-up call
on other issues not getting the attention they require.

always, there are some who cannot accept the legitimacy of Sunday's
referendum, simply because it did not produce the result they desired.
They are oblivious to the meticulousness of Venezuela's democratic
process, and even the fact that most media are in private hands.

argue that the removal of term limits is inherently undemocratic. But
that is a difficult case to make, as there was no term limit for the US
president until 1951 and there are none today for the US Senate, the
House of Representatives or Britain's House of Commons. The test of
democracy is not term limits for public representatives, it is that the
people must be free to elect their own representatives and also to
democratically decide the form of democratic government they consider

In Venezuela on Sunday, they did just that. The
choice was logical. For 10 years, under Chávez's presidency, the
country has seen greater democracy and social progress than at any time
in its history. The population want Chávez to stay in power to address
the most intractable problems, especially in cities, left by previous
regimes with the same vigour that his government has already shown in
fields like health and education.