A concerned Hugo Chavez wants to expedite a referendum, as continued
weakness in oil prices is likely to decrease his popularity fast in
the upcoming months. If PDVSA is still selling oil for 90 day payment
as had been the case in the past, Venezuela has yet to feel the brunt
of the drop in oil prices and the largest drop will be felt early in
2009. Thus, Hugo is in a rush. If it looks iffy today that the people
would approve a referendum to allow him to rule forever, as time goes
by it will be more and more unlikely as the economy is likely to
contract in 2009.
But even if all of the pressure is brought by Chavez onto the system
to rush the process through to an early vote, it may not be as simple
as he wants.
While Chavez has said that he wants this to be an amendment to the
Constitution, this in itself is questionable and even if the Supreme
Curt agrees with him, a ruling may take some time and the question of
changing the maximum number of presidential terms from limited to two,
to unlimited, seems more than just a simple cosmetic change as the
autocrat wants everyone to believe.
At this time, Chavez seems to have chosen amendment over reform,
simply because the Constitution says that the same reform may not be
proposed twice. Of course, lawyers could argue that why wasn’t this
presented as an amendment in 2007, as this was the crux of Chavez’
proposal last year.
In fact, I personally thought that the argument that “the people”
could bring up the same question was fuzzier than what he wants to do
now, even if still illegal under the Bolivarian Constitution.
But using the path of “the people” may be what Chavez wants to avoid
altogether. Any such process would require that 15% of eligible voters
sign a petition previously approved by the Electoral Board, a process
that is not only cumbersome, but may be the subject of quiet tactics
by the opposition which may delay it if the same rules as in the
recall process of 2003-2004 are used.
We would be surprised if the CNE would even approve anything this
year, suggesting we may not see a vote until March or April at the
But maybe Chavez should pay more attention to the numbers from Nov.
27th. Abstention was surprisingly low for a regional election, but it
was likely to be the result in part of the high level of polarization
at the local and regional level. In fact, last year’s referendum did
not seem to arouse the same interest from Chavista voters. Thus, any
lower participation, combined with less support for an eternal Chavez
from his regional collaborators, is likely to lead to a ratification
of last year’s referendum and more wasted months for Hugo Chavez.
Because in the end, the people in the poor urban areas were saying
simply that they want their problems solved and they are tired of
confrontation, crime and politics. Chavismo gave away 35,000 kitchen
appliances in Petare and despite this did not manage to come even
close in the vote. And Chavez’ handpicked buddies in Petare, Miranda,
Carabobo, Alcaldia Mayor and Tachira, ended up losing, while in some
cases the deserving candidates could have done much better than the
Which shows that these days, Chavez has very few advisors trying to
tell him things like they are and suggesting alternative strategies
which may work better than his own ideas.
But in the end, it will be the “people” that will tell Hugo to go
away, fed up by waste, corruption and negligence.
What will Hugo do then? Select a succesor (His daughter?) or simply
forget the democratic principles he has never believed in?=