Decembre 07, 2006
A sweeping triumph for the Bolivarian revolution
IT WAS an unequivocal electoral endorsement of Hugo Chávez and his Bolivarian revolution. In a presidential election on December 3rd, Mr Chávez won 63% of the vote to 37% for his opponent, Manuel Rosales. That was more than the 56% Mr Chávez won when he was first elected president in 1998, and gives him another six years in power. He will use them, he said,
to “deepen and extend the revolution,” whose aim is “21st century socialism.”
His plans include the unification of his supporters in a single revolutionary party and a reform of the 1999 constitution. Although of his own making, this was adequate only for what he now calls the “transition” period. One of the changes he wants is to remove all term limits for presidential re-election.
Mr Chávez's popularity owes much to the massive increase in Venezuela's oil revenues over the past three years. He has said that he does not plan “drastic changes” to his government's social and economic policies. But at his post-election press conference, Mr Chávez, a former army officer and coup leader, reiterated his belief that democracy was impossible under capitalism. He also praised pre-Columbian systems of barter and collective property-ownership.
Private enterprise may face more restrictions. Over the past few years, the government has imposed controls on prices, access to foreign exchange and the allocation of bank credit. Government-subsidised co-operatives and “social production companies”, together with state-owned enterprises, are likely to account for a growing slice of the economy.
Mr Rosales, a social democrat, barely hung on to the 4m anti-Chávez votes cast in a mid-term recall referendum on the president held in 2004. His proposals, including an innovative debit card for the direct distribution of oil income to the poor, seem to have had little impact among wavering chavistas. He trailed the president in all 24 states, including his home base of Zulia. But his energetic campaign, swift admission of defeat, and his determination to keep his broad coalition in being all hold out hope for the opposition.
Mr Rosales unveiled his own proposals for constitutional reform, including a reduction in the presidential term to four years, and tighter guarantees of property rights and educational choice. Education could be an early battleground, as it has been on and off since the country first became politically polarised between supporters and opponents of the president in 2001. The government believes that education should be politicised: it wants to inculcate “Bolivarian” values (for Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan-born atin American independence hero who is Mr Chávez's ostensible inspiration).
Mr Rosales quashed moves by radical anti-Chávez groups to take to
the streets alleging a non-existent fraud. This will enhance his
reputation as a straight-talker and decisive leader, both at home and
abroad. His stance increases the legitimacy of the opposition, damaged
by a failed coup attempt against Mr Chávez in 2002.
The president's power looks limitless. Because the opposition chose
to boycott a legislative election last year, it has no representatives
in the National Assembly. The government controls the judiciary and all
the other institutions of state.
Nevertheless, the president now faces a choice. The evidence is that
most Venezuelans like Mr Chávez and his social programmes, but do not
want Cuban-style communism. If the president chooses to use his new
mandate to steer his revolution in a more authoritarian and
collectivist direction, he is likely to face growing dissent, even
within the ranks of his own supporters. If he chooses to try to start a
dialogue with a more constructive opposition, he could remove the
stigma attached to the undemocratic aspects of his rule. But Mr Chávez
is not a man given to compromise. The most the opposition might achieve
is to retard his progress.