Chávez Wins Once More, Despite Opposition to Reforms
Caracas. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez won approval from Venezuelan voters yesterday on a slate of constitutional changes that considerably consolidates his hold over power, altering substantially the political and legal framework in this nation of 26 million. Approval for the reform reached 52% of valid votes, versus 45% for the “No” option.
Although polls leading up the election had shown growing opposition to the reforms, and a number of prominent supporters of the President had defected from his camp in recent weeks, Venezuela’s divided opposition was unable to turn these advantages into a victory, as a substantial portion of “No” voters stayed away from the polls out of mistrust for the process and electoral authorities. Abstention reached 60% of eligible voters.
Objecting to what they called unfair conditions, some opposition leaders had called for abstention, a strategy which appears to have provided the President with the margin needed for victory. Polls leading up the elections had shown majorities in Venezuela against the reform’s central propositions, which included the removal of term limits for the President and new restrictions on private property.
President Chávez has easily won electoral contests in the past, but faced new challenges in this referendum. General Raúl Baduel, long a Chávez loyalist, was a vocal critic of the reforms. Podemos, one of the policital parties that supports the President, openly called people to vote “No.” Escalating food shortages have cut into the President’s once sky-high approval ratings. University students across the nation had led demonstrations against the reforms in the weeks leading up to the vote and repeatedly called on voters to vote “No.” And although support for the President’s social spending remains high, there were clear indications that the new reforms were considered too radical for most Venezuelans.
Nonetheless, today it appears as if the President has the tools he needs to transform his nation into a socialist state. Some anticipate an increase in media censorship and political repression along with the broad changes to the nation’s economic underpinnings.
“There’s no doubt about it,” said Lance Freeman of the Inter-American Dialogue, “Venezuela’s opposition scored another own-goal.”
Pablo Cabrera, 54, a taxi driver, was one of the opposition’s supporters who did vote yesterday. “Of course, we have to vote, no matter what,” he said, standing in line at a voting center in Catia, a barrio in Caracas, “or these reforms will kill our country.”