And an important defeat it is.
Humbled by his first electoral defeat ever, President Hugo Chavez said Monday he may have been too ambitious in asking voters to let him stand indefinitely for re-election and endorse a huge leap to a socialist state.
“I understand and accept that the proposal I made was quite profound and intense,” he said after voters narrowly rejected the sweeping constitutional reforms by 51 percent to 49 percent.
I will admit to being (pleasantly) surprised at the outcome. I thought that Chavez’s attempts at vote buying in the constitutional changes (more “free” money to the people) would clinch it for him. Apparently, enough people have had their eyes opened and saw what Chavez did with the power he already had and didn’t like it. I am a bit concerned, though, that this was a razor-thin margin of victory, and that simple turnout may have been the deciding factor. But it wasn’t the slam-dunk that other Chavez elections have been, so that is encouraging.
Chavez knows he overplayed his hand, and realizes he has to move more slowly. He’s even making nice to those he called “traitors” just days ago.
Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace that the outcome of Sunday’s balloting had taught him that “Venezuelan democracy is maturing.” His respect for the verdict, he asserted, proves he is a true democratic leader.
In a matter of days, these “traitors” have become proponents of a democracy that is “maturing”. Like the joke about the nature of diplomacy, sounds to me like he’s saying “Nice doggy” until he can find a rock to throw at it.
Some will no doubt point to this first defeat in years for Chavez and claim that democracy is alive and well in Venezuela. But if the ruling party in the United States were only to lose one election or, in this case, referendum in 10 years, people wouldn’t necessarily say the same thing, but that’s a double-standard the US lives with all the time. I won’t even begin to consider that democracy is still alive in Venezuela until the checks and balances that their Congress temporarily eliminated, letting Chavez rule by edict, expires.