New York Times
November 24, 2008
Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, is not feeling the love. Collapsing oil prices have sharply curtailed his ability to buy public sympathies, and Barack Obama’s election has removed the United States as a convenient foe to be berated as needed to energize his base.
In Sunday’s state and municipal elections, Venezuelans showed just how fed up they are with his government’s authoritarianism and incompetence by rejecting the president’s allies in significant races.
Mr. Chávez did pretty much everything he could to skew the elections. His government increased public spending by 60 percent in the last year. A government watchdog disqualified many opposition candidates on what international monitors agreed were bogus corruption charges.
Despite that, the opposition carried Venezuela’s two largest cities, including Caracas, the capital. It also won 5 of 22 provinces, including the richest and most populous. The results mean that the opposition will rule more than half of Venezuela’s population.
The president’s allies still control the National Assembly, the Supreme Court and all the state-run companies, including Petróleos de Venezuela, the oil monopoly known as Pdvsa. His government has whittled away at provincial governors’ power and revenue.
For all the rhetoric about revolution and social change, the Chávez era also has brought Venezuelans soaring food prices, overflowing sewers and a surge in gang violence. The lesson from Sunday’s defeat — less than a year after voters rejected his plan for a power-grabbing constitutional reform — is that Venezuelans don’t want to give Mr. Chávez even more power.
He should heed the message. Rather than lash out at his opponents, Mr. Chávez must accept democratic limits to his rule. He should stop trying to extend his control — by hook or crook — over all of Venezuela’s political and economic institutions. He should abandon for good his push to change the Constitution so that he can run for a third term in 2013. Venezuelans deserve the chance to choose a competent government