Term-limits are a sign of practically all modern democracies. They’re meant to limit incumbents’ tendency to take advantage of their position in order to perpetuate themselves in power. They also force periodic political renewals that might not happen otherwise.
While no other Latin American country allows indefinite re-election, none of these countries can be considered a model democracy. On the other hand, countries such as France and Great Britain don’t have term limits. Charles De Gaulle was President of France for ten years, and had he not died in 1970 he probably would have run and served out a few more terms. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister for 11 years before a petty scandal brought her down.
Yet these examples cannot serve as arguments for the abolition of term limits, since they are in essence parliamentary or semi-parliamentary systems in which the ability to actually govern depends on maintaining a parliamentary majority.
When I travel overseas, one of the most effective arguments in convincing people that Hugo Chávez is a dictator is precisely this question of indefinite re-election. People abroad definitely don’t think that’s kosher. I have bumped into more than one PSF whose sympathy for Chávez has been toned down by Chávez’s repeated vow to die in office.
But while indefinite re-election will mark a turning point in the slow agony of Venezuelan democracy, perhaps it would not be such a bad thing. This administration has changed the way Venezuelans view politics, and perhaps the only way to leave it behind us is to let it implode for good, to let it run its course without the Constitution putting an artificial shelf-life on it.
Sometimes, to cheer myself up, I think of the day when Chavez himself, in power, is no longer popular nor wanted. When we finally see him leave power, it will be that much sweeter to see him do so as a result of a voter revolt rather than by force of nature or the Constitution preventing him from running again. So indefinite re-election may not be such a bad thing. At least it leaves the door open for Chávez’s last election to be one where he loses badly.
Quico adds: Please forward some of the crack you were smoking when you wrote this.
The real reason indefinite re-election does not mark France or Britain as dictatorships is that those countries have functioning, stable, independent institutions. If Jacques Chirac could mobilize the French army to campaign for him, would he be stepping down this year? If Tony Blair could threaten to fire Home Office clerks and secretaries if they refuse to attend marches in his favor, would he be on his way out? C’mon, Katy!