Thursday, February 19, 2009
Diego Arria comments on the referendum in the Inter-American Dialogues
What Do the Referendum Results Mean for Venezuela?
Q: On Sunday, Venezuelan voters approved a referendum ending term limits for all elected officials, including President Hugo Chavez, more than a year after they voted down a similar referendum.
Why was Chavez successful this time? Was the election free and fair? What are the next steps for Chavez and for the opposition?
A: Board Comment: Diego Arria:
"Chavez is definitely a formidable campaigner, and clearly won this unconstitutional and illegal referendum fighting, in his own words, 'for his political life' since in 2012 he would not have been able to run again. He used all the resources of the state to stay in power, in what the international media described as the most abusive and expensive political campaign ever. Intimidation is always present in Chavez campaigns.
In this case, the main argument was that if he lost, all the 'misiones' (social programs supported with Cuban doctors) would be eliminated. In Venezuela, the biggest state capitalist in the hemisphere, where to 2 to 3 million people receive benefits from these programs and about 2 million are on the government payroll, such arguments were very important. It is true that the opposition forces could have been more effective had they presented a more united front to motivate the more than six million people who abstained. But even with limited resources, more than five million people voted voluntarily against the proposal. It means that out of 18 million registered voters, Chavez won just over six million votes and the opposition just over five. The gap is closing.
The opposition needs to develop an alternative proposal with credible leaders to attract the 'non- aligned' voters that could decide the outcome of the next parliamentary elections of 2010 as well as the presidential one in 2012. I would not be surprised if Chavez calls for a 'Constituyente' to bless what he calls a socialist state with the leiv motif of 'Patria, Socialismo o Muerte.'"Diego Arria is a member of the Advisor board and Director of the Columbus Group.
Editor's note: the above is a continuation of a Q&A published in the February 18, 2009issue of the Advisor.
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