Chavez: Defeat in Venezuelan Constitutional Reform is “For Now”

Venezuela's President Chavez gave a historic concession speech Sunday night. For the first time in nine years, after winning twelve nation-wide electoral contests, Chavez had to concede defeat, using his trademark phrase "for now."
President Chavez holds up a copy of the 1999 constitutiona, which he wanted to reform (Alfonso Ocando/Prensa Presidencial)

Caracas, December 3, 2007 ( – Venezuela's
President Chavez gave a historic concession speech Sunday night. For the first
time in nine years, after winning twelve nation-wide electoral contests, Chavez
had to concede defeat, using his trademark phrase "for now." In
effect, he promised that this electoral setback, which gave the opposition a
razor-thin margin in defeating his constitutional reform proposal with a vote
of 50.7% to 49.3%, was just temporary and that he will continue to pursue the
policies outlined in the reform.

Chavez gave his concession talk at just after 1am to
international journalists, members of his government, and other invited guests,
such as Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, many of whom had waited for his
statement on the referendum since 7pm.

The constitutional reform referendum, which was to address
issues of participatory democracy, social inclusion, economic development, politico-territorial
reorganization, and presidential power, was divided into two blocks. Block "A"
contained Chavez's proposal to reform 33 articles, plus 11 changes proposed by
the National Assembly. Block "B" contained another 25 articles from the
National Assembly.

In the night from Sunday to Monday, Venezuela's
National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced around 1am that with 88% of
the ballots counted, block "A" of the proposal was defeated with 4,504,354 or 50.7% votes against and 4,379,392 or
49.3% of votes in favor of the reform. Block "B" lost 50.9% to 49.1%.
Abstention was at 44.1%.

Right after the official
results were announced, President Chavez went on the air in a nationally
televised broadcast, saying that he had been torn all night between accepting
defeat and waiting until more results are in to see if the final result might
still change. He said he was relieved, though, that the CNE said that the
failure of the reform was irreversible so that the country would be spared a
drawn-out battle over the results, as had occurred in the U.S.
presidential election of 2000. He referred to the result as a "photo-finish

Chavez went on to say that he believed "Venezuelan
democracy continues to mature in this new historic project that began in 1999."

He also congratulated the opposition in its victory, but
recommended that the opposition ought to "know how to administer the victory,"
and that he would not have wanted "pyrrhic" victory that a close victory would have been.

But, he "accepts and understands" that this proposal was
defeated because "we accept the rules of the game," just as he had accepted it
when the CNE had announced that the petition for a recall referendum had
succeeded, even though he believed that too many signatures in that petition
had been forged.

Despite the result, having won 49% of the votes still
represented a victory of sorts because of the reform proposal had ideas that
had much "audacity" and were "without precedent."

For this reason, though, he would not withdraw "a single
comma" from the proposal. The proposal "is still alive," said Chavez, because
this "is not a defeat – this is another ‘for now,'" he added, referring to his
famous remark during his failed 1992 coup attempt, when he said that the
military uprising he led had also failed "for now." "We know how to convert
apparent defeats into moral victories."

Chavez closed by saying that one of the proposals in the
reform project, the plan to create a social security fund for workers in the
informal economy, would still be implemented as soon as possible.

Following Chavez, opposition leader and former
presidential candidate Manuel Rosales spoke, saying that "Venezuela needs to open channels of dialogue, of
coming together, and hopefully this result will serve so that in Venezuela we
will look for peace and harmony, so that the struggle of one against the other,
persecution, and violent discourse come to an end," he added.

Also, opposition mayor of the upper-middle class
neighborhood Chacao, Leopoldo Lopez, said that "all Venezuelans won" with the referendum
result on Sunday. "It has been a difficult path with obstacles, but already a
new majority is coming about," he added.

General Raúl Baduel, the retired former defense minister
who split from Chavez's inner circle a few weeks ago, also held a press
conference, in which he said that the result "cannot be considered as a victory…
This is a victory of success of reflection that everyone must engage in."

Baduel also proposed that instead of a constitutional
reform, Venezuelans should organize a constitutional assembly and said that "In
the next few days I will present to the people, together with other factors of
Venezuelan society, a definitive proposal in this sense. We have defeated the
ghost of a coup d'état just as we did in April 2002."