Chavez’s Proposal Fails – but don’t despair

The Constitutional Reform referendum in Venezuela has failed, and Chavez, unlike the Venezuelan opposition, gracefully accepted the defeat. I know that a lot of people are disappointed, but I think there are some very good things that can come out of this.

Before I get into that, the results. “No” got 50.7% (4 504 351), “Yes” got 49.2% (4 159 392) votes. Abstention was very high, at 44.11%. I got these results from El Tiempo, the Colombian newspaper, and they come from when there were 97% of the votes counted.


The Constitutional Reform referendum in Venezuela has failed, and Chavez, unlike the Venezuelan opposition, gracefully accepted the defeat. I know that a lot of people are disappointed, but I think there are some very good things that can come out of this.

Before I get into that, the results. “No” got 50.7% (4 504 351), “Yes” got 49.2% (4 159 392) votes. Abstention was very high, at 44.11%. I got these results from El Tiempo, the Colombian newspaper, and they come from when there were 97% of the votes counted.

How to interpret it? First, note how very close things were. Note also though that the normal split in previous years has been about 5 million voting with Chavez and about 3.5 million voting against. That was the case in the 2004 referendum, for example. That means that about 500 000 voters switched and voted against Chavez. Quite a few new registrants voted against, and quite a few new registrants abstained, it seems (I haven’t checked this though).

Why do I think some good can come out of it? One of the best things that could happen in Venezuela, as unlikely as it is, is that it could make socialism, popular participation, and democracy seem like normal things. If not for elites or for the US, for Venezuelan and Latin American citizens. Instead, every time there is an electoral process, there is this polarization, a sense that the whole revolutionary project is in the balance, the whole future is in the balance and imperialist violence is hanging overhead, and that voting against Chavez is to side with these reactionary imperialist forces. If, instead, this vote could be seen the way Chavez is presenting it, as a defeat of a specific proposal “for now” (one of his famous phrases), in the context of an ongoing process, that would be a very good thing.

I have been concerned about what I think are two weaknesses in Venezuela’s revolution, and they are related. The first is the absence of highly visible leaders with a national television profile and ideas of their own, that are in Chavez’s league, that are a part of the revolutionary process, but that might have slightly different proposals or strategic ideas. This is something that revolutions have always had a hard time producing – it always seems to focus on a single person.

The second problem is the difficulty, again largely created by the US and imperialism, in having a space for dissent within the revolutionary process. Oh, I know the Venezuelans are incredibly tolerant of the opposition, allowing speech and acts against the government that would not be tolerated in the US or Canada. Much harder though, and I don’t know how to do it, is for there to be debate within the movement about specific proposals without one side or the other having to go over to the opposition. In a context where the opposition has some 3.5 million voters, plus tremendous media power and foreign financing (and military backing ultimately), that is very hard to do. But again, this referendum could actually split the opposition voters as well, by showing that Chavez isn’t a dictator and is willing to accept a democratic result, which the opposition has been unwilling to do.

It is worth remembering that the usual fear tactics and dirty tactics were used by the opposition and the Americans. The spread of disinformation, from the notion that Chavez was going to ban miniskirts to Chavez was going to take your firstborn, was pervasive. There were small-scale capital strikes, threats of a new coup, and other abuses. But the Bolivarians had defeated those tactics in the past and many of them had already been exposed by a much stronger Bolivarian media strategy than ever before.

The other reason not to despair over this defeat though is because of the weaknesses of the referendum itself. There were two elements in the referendum that concerned me, and if they had been presented by themselves I would have voted against them. These were the removal of term limits (which are a relatively minor issue) and the 7-year terms (which I would vote against as much because they could be used against the Bolivarians in future – who wants to be stuck with a reactionary regime for 7 years?). There was much that was very good in the constitutional reforms, and exciting, but how can we know that the 500,000 or so that switched didn’t switch on these two issues, for example? Support for the Bolivarian process could well be deeper than support for this referendum, and potential support for it is even greater (given the high abstention rates).

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

2 thoughts on “Chavez’s Proposal Fails – but don’t despair”

  1. Many of the best things in
    Many of the best things in the reform proposals can be implemented through legislation:

    the 6 hour day,
    pensions for housewives and workers in the informal economy,
    the strengthening of communal councils etc…

    The worst thing about the refoms was that they made the requirements for recall referendums more challenging. I’m glad they remain unchanged. I don’t mind the abolition of term limits and even extending the presidential term by a year provided recall elections are relatively easy to bring about.

    The results should even further discredit those who smear Chavez as a dictator, but I’m sure the corporate press will continue to do so. Imagine a Pro-Chavez corporate newspaper in any rich country? The only variation among them is the level of disohonesty and contempt displayed in their coverage.

    I hope the Chavistas forget Constitutional amendmenst for a least a few years [if not longer] and stick to implementing progressive policies through legislation. I can undertand why poor people would tire of rewrites, or would wonder why the governmnet shouldn’t just get busy using the constitution that have [already approved in a referendum] to work on any number of problems.

    As for Chavez himslef, I hope the defeat instills in him an even greater urgency to deepen Venezuelan democracy so that it is not so dependent on the presidency. The worst outcome would be that instead he focusses on developing some kind of sucessor.

    Joe

    1. This is a very sensible post
      This is a very sensible post by Justin. I agree with this. But I would like to add that these repetitive elections induce apathy among the populace. People get bored by all those speeches. They would say what is the use of all these talk and voting in elections if their material conditions doesn’t improve substantially.
      The same oligarchs are still holding much property.And they also seem to be planning to transfer all their industries out of venezuela.
      Chavez should stop all this talk for now and start taking over the industries.Or atleast the process should be started. he should also develop new leadership who will take over from him.
      There also seem to be high inflation and poor people seem to be suffering. He should take care of these things otherwise in the next election the opposition may strike hard and win and reverse everything.

      And look at this guy, Marc Cooper. He is already over the moon.


      http://marccooper.com/hugo-ha-ha-ha/

      Is this guy still considered to be on left in US? He is so vituperative against leftists. The guy is pathetic.

      Ajit
      Bangalore

      PS The font size of your blog is so low. Haven’t anybody complained to you? I use Explorer.But it is the same with Mozilla.

Comments are closed.