Sunday, December 2, 2007, is Voting Day in Venezuela. This diary is about the referendum and the last minute developments leading up to the vote.
What’s the vote about? BBC reports:
On 2 December, Venezuelans will decide whether or not to approve a package of constitutional reforms, which include ending the limits on presidential terms.
The changes, which would affect about a quarter of the constitution’s articles, were approved by the National Assembly, which is controlled by President Hugo Chavez’s supporters.
The referendum is the last step needed for the changes to come into force. Around 60% of voters are expected to take part
More across the wide, turquoise Caribe.
According to the BBC, the main changes Chavez proposes, and whether they are a reform or something else is open to discussion, are:
# Allowing the indefinite re-election of the president – not applicable to any other political post [this means an end to term limits]
# Increasing the presidential term from six to seven years
# Introducing changes to the country’s administrative structure [these would allow central government people (read: Chavez appointees) to overrule local decisions
# Ending the autonomy of the central bank
# Placing the president in charge of administering the country’s international reserves
# Reducing the maximum working week from 44 to 36 hours
For a complete, section by section list of the referendum items, go here
There is an intense opposition to the changes. It is widerspread and more intense than in previous Venezuelan elections. It is unclear whether the opposition has the majority of those who will cast ballots. Opposition to the changes began with students:
The marches against the referendum have been led mainly by groups of opposition students, not the traditional opposition parties.
Also, some Chavez supporters are not convinced about the changes he wants to introduce, especially the indefinite re-election of the president.
Some mayors and governors are also unhappy with the administrative regions he wants to create [this is a reference to changes in the country’s administrative structure].
Some analysts believe Mr Chavez is alienating his supporters.
General Raul Baduel, a former close supporter who served as defence minister, has likened the constitutional reform to a military coup.
President Chavez, sensing problems within his ranks, has repeatedly asked his allies to decide whether they are for or against him.
*4 Venezuelan opposition parties have announced that they are boycotting the vote:
A fourth Venezuelan opposition party has withdrawn from this Sunday’s congressional election amid a dispute over electronic voting machines.
Primero Justicia’s decision means more than half the opposition groupings have now pulled out.
Opposition parties are worried the election board could rig the vote.
Electoral officials deny such accusations and say voting for the expanded 167-seat Congress will go ahead as planned.
*Chavez has said that if the US interferes in the election he will cut off oil to the US:
President Hugo Chavez urged supporters Friday to approve constitutional changes he said could keep him in power for life and threatened to halt oil exports to the U.S. if it tries to meddle in Sunday’s vote.
Speaking to more than 200,000 supporters, Chavez warned that his opponents at home could try to sabotage the vote with backing from Washington through violent protests on the night of the vote.
“If ‘yes’ wins on Sunday and the Venezuelan oligarchy, the violent Venezuelans – the ones who play the (U.S.) empire’s game – unleash violence with the tale that there was fraud … that very Monday you order a halt to the shipments of oil to the United States,” Chavez said, addressing his oil minister, Rafael Ramirez.
“Oil will not go out to the United States,” Chavez said, warning the opposition if they take to streets to deny a legitimate victory, “they’re going to regret it.”
*The Chavistas are accusing business of of attempting to sway the election by hording toilet paper:
Venezuelan businesses spent years conspiring against President Hugo Chavez, but the government now says they have found a new way to play dirty — hiding toilet paper to sway Sunday’s vote on expanding Chavez’s powers.
Venezuelans have been buying large amounts of toilet paper on rumours it could be the next hard-to-find thing amid shortages of products like milk and meat that businesses attribute to price controls but the government blames on high demand and hoarding.
“We know there are sectors that are hiding toilet paper,” Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas told state television on Friday. “A group of business leaders are playing mean, playing dirty … of course trying to create the sensation of product shortage during the elections.”
Some shoppers in supermarkets and pharmacies visited by Reuters on Friday had filled shopping carts with toilet paper, and shelves carrying the product were only half stocked.
*And there is the usual talk in Florida, where most Venezuelan immigrants live, of mass emigration from Venezuela if Chavez wins:
f the reforms are approved, Mayela Rosales, president of the Naples-based Media Vista TV production company and host of the Spanish-language daily TV show “D’Latinos,” believes an increase of emigration from Venezuela to the U.S. is to be expected.
“I know of people in Venezuela who are looking for ways to come,” she said.
According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 177,866 Venezuelans lived in the United States as of 2006, mostly concentrated in South Florida, where 92,655 live. Lee County has 1,197 Venezuelans, acco
Will Chavez prevail? Depends on whom you ask. Will there be a disruption of the process? Depends on whom you ask. This Chicago Tribune article imo captures the situation nicely:
After nine years amassing power and stirring socialist movements across the hemisphere, President Hugo Chavez is finding that even his hero, South American liberator Simon Bolivar, seems to want to rein him in.
Bolivar’s own words are being employed by Chavez opponents to attack a referendum Sunday through which the Venezuelan leader hopes to dramatically expand presidential authority in his oil-rich nation. When a leader gets too much power, “that is where usurpation and tyranny originate,” Bolivar warns in banners all over town.
For the first time, the charismatic and provocative Chavez, a former army colonel, is staring at an election defeat as even longtime loyalists on the left fear that he has gone too far in proposing constitutional changes that would let presidents be re-elected for life and rule by decree in emergency situations.