Monday, December 3, 2007

Venezuela After the Referendum

Lessons for the Bolivarians


"Hugo Chavez' narrow defeat in the referendum was the result of large-scale abstentions by his supporters. 44 percent of the electorate stayed at home. Why? First, because they did not either understand or accept that this was a necessary referendum.....

Another error was the insistence on voting for all the proposals en bloc on a take it or leave it basis. It's perfectly possibly that a number of the proposals might have got through if a vote on each had been allowed. This would have compelled the Bolivarians to campaign more effectively at grassroots level through organised discussions and debates.....

What is to be done now? The President is in office till 2013 and whatever else Chavez may be the description of 'lame-duck' will never fit him. He is a fighter and he will be thinking of how to strengthen the process. If properly handled the defeat could be a blessing in disguise. It has, after all, punctured the arguments of the Western pundits who were claiming for the last eight years that democracy in Venezuela was dead and authoritarianism had won.

Anyone who saw Chavez' speech accepting defeat last night (as I did here in Guadalajara with Mexican friends) will not be in any doubt regarding his commitment to a democratically embedded social process. That much is clear. One of the weaknesses of the movement in Venezuela has been the over-dependence on one person. It is dangerous for the person (one bullet can be enough) and it is unhealthy for the Bolivarian process. There will be a great deal of soul-searching taking place in Caracas, but the key now is an open debate analysing the causes of the setback and a move towards a collective leadership to decide on the next candidate. It's a long time ahead but the discussions should start now. Deepening popular participation and encouraging social inclusion (as envisaged in the defeated constitutional changes) should be done anyway.

The referendum defeat will undoubtedly boost the Venezuelan opposition and the Right in Latin America, but they would be foolish to imagine that this victory will automatically win them the Presidency. If the lessons of the defeat are understood it is the Bolivarians who will win."

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