vote was about the specific issue of term limits, and that made it
significantly harder for the Si side to win. Quite a few people support
Chavez as President but nevertheless believe that term limits are a
good idea, whereas on the opposition side (which has no indefinitely
re-electable charismatic leader) there was complete unanimity on the No
option." -"RichardCheeseman", online comment
The 55% majority which secured Sunday's referendum to remove term
limits in Venezuela did not appear particularly impressive in
comparison to the 63% that re-elected Chavez back in 2006. It should be
recognised, however, that Chavez's support was partially split.
Allegiances have in fact changed very little in the last few years.
Given that the opposition had established a reliable capacity to
attract no more than 4.5 million votes in the four previous elections,
the sudden jump to 5.2m might be seen in those quarters as cause for
celebration. But will the opposition be able to rely on this increased
figure in next year's legislative elections, or the general election in
It seems unlikely. As many as 700,000 of those who defended term
limits last Sunday might still back Chavez for a third term, even
though they would prefer him to pass the baton. Add those 700k votes to
the total "Si" tally, and you arrive at a figure of around 7 million –
slightly less than voted for Chavez in the 2006 general election, and a
reasonable estimate of what he could expect against an opposition
challenger in 2012.
The balance of evidence suggests that Chavez's appeal has hardly
waned, while the counter-revolution's fortunes have barely improved.
Now that term limits have been eliminated for all elected officials,
voters are presented with a dramatic possibility: the revolution
continuing in its present form and towards its stated objectives,
indefinitely. That's what Fidel Castro meant in his brief message of
congratulation to Chavez: that this victory, "because of its magnitude,
is impossible to measure".
Though it is reasonable to expect a slight diminution of support for
the still-unravelling aims and policies of the Bolivarian revolution in
its early years, there is every chance that the wider trend will tell a
different story. This is not only to do with a growing population,
increasingly less victim to the "truth" as told by private media
enterprises. It is also a logical consequence of the positive trends in
most indices of development, and the ability of state and local media
to publicise them. More than anything, it must be due to the
realisation of grassroots political power, in the truest sense of the
CLEARING THE PATH AHEAD
Sunday's result identified a rigid core of support which should
guarantee smooth democratic progress during the coming years. This
would include the retention of a legislative majority in 2010, the
re-election of Chavez in 2012, and the passing of proposed
constitutional amendments/reforms along the way. That's even if all the
extra 700,000 votes gained by the opposition's recent "No" campaign
have been irreversibly (and inexplicably) converted into
One kind of election which doesn't fit neatly into this analysis
would be that of regional officials, whose poor performances on ‘bread
and butter' issues were shown to be punishable by crushing defeat even
in the most staunchly Chavista areas last November. One suspects,
however, that this lesson has been learnt. All governors/mayors should
now be plotting their resources with a clear emphasis on society's
daily needs, but also – with the reward of further re-election in mind
– based on a long-term plan to prepare the ground for broader
2007 also supplied a useful test case, in which 69 proposed
constitutional reforms, presented in just two blocks after a confusing
campaign, resulted in nearly 3 million of Chavez's biggest supporters
abstaining from the vote entirely. This experience will surely never be
repeated, and future reforms or amendments are unlikely to be as
controversial as the one just passed. The benefit of relentless
campaigning focused on a single, simple issue is now evident, and
smaller handfuls of proposals will be equally manageable.
CHALLENGES AND CHANCES
Looking further into the future, a 45% share of the vote amid low
abstention might end up being the historical high point for any
opposition campaign in 21st century Venezuela. Despite warnings of
Venezuela's precarious position due to crashed oil prices, we're
actually likely to see a rebound to $100/barrel in a matter of years,
if not months. So, even if we concede that Venezuela's development and
prosperity is still overwhelmingly dependent upon its oil revenues, the
imminent decline of world production suggests that Venezuela will have
a very bright future – and every opportunity to take revolutionary
support to unseen levels.
Venezuela has shielded its citizens to a remarkable degree against
the gathering storm. Mortgages are now extremely accessible for all,
and unemployment is at a record low, partially as a result of heavy
restrictions on the ability to sack workers. A large proportion of the
workforce is informally self-employed, yet still eligible for benefits
and pensions. The minimum wage is raised on an annual basis, and
already the highest in Latin America. A national network of subsidised
food stores enables the population to avoid price inflation in a large
percentage of their expenditure. None of this will be taken for granted
as the most powerful economies crash, leaving millions of ‘first-world'
citizens jobless, indebted, and desperate.
Venezuela, with its vast oil/gas reserves and mission to achieve its
full agricultural and industrial potential, can easily be described as
one of the most promising future world powers. A broad array of
measures to reduce domestic crime will eventually demonstrate concrete
results, and the tourism industry should grow dramatically as a result.
As expanding national production gradually reduces dependence on
imports in general, exports in turn will rise. In effect, two of the
country's greatest inherited problems have easily applicable (though
far from immediate) solutions.
But the greatest means of increasing support for socialism in
Venezuela is the development of real popular power, which will in
itself solve many day-to-day issues, and shape communities in a
democratic fashion. Once the working day is reduced to permit greater
leisure time and political participation, the new "communes" will begin
to exercise influence beyond the sum of their parts (the local
"communal councils"). A new geometry of power aims to put elected
officials directly at the mercy of the grassroots, forced to carry out
the popular will, rather than their own manifestos. This is ultimately
what will define the new, revolutionary Venezuela.
Chavez, in Sunday's victory speech, emphasized that term limits are
a useful means of hindering the successful transformation of a country.
In particular, any effort to phase out a capitalist, market-based
economy could be severely compromised by forced changes of leadership.
It should be noted that many other countries do not feature term limits
– but their populations are generally more docile; their political
hierarchies and media systems more adept at blocking the ascension of
When a newly-elected Chavez introduced the possibility of a second
presidential term in the 1999 constitution, few could have imagined how
important it would be that he serve a third. A perfect replacement
candidate cannot exist even in theory, since he or she would lack all
the experience Chavez has accumulated throughout a turbulent decade.
The decade ahead of us, which he has designated the third "historical
period" of the revolution, may be more turbulent still. It could have
immense, era-defining implications for the continent and the world, and
so we can be grateful that the roadmap has now been made immeasurably