Monday, December 3, 2007

Hugo Chávez Loses Referendum

photo Marcelo Garcia/Agence France-Presse-Getty-Images

Term Limits Stay; Chávez to Go. In 2012.
(If he can't get this passed by then. Or hold on some other way.)

By 51-49%, Hugo Chávez lost a referendum Sunday evening which would have abolished term limits, allowing him to keep running for President of Venezuela every seven years. Till death do us part.

New York Times

The outcome is a stunning development in a country where Mr. Chávez and his supporters control nearly all of the levers of power. Almost immediately after the results were broadcast on state television, Mr. Chávez conceded defeat, describing the results as a “photo finish.”

“I congratulate my adversaries for this victory,” he said. “For now, we could not do it.”

Opposition leaders were ecstatic. “Tonight, Venezuela has won,” said Manuel Rosales, governor of Zulia State and the opposition’s candidate in presidential elections last year.

Uncertainty over Mr. Chávez’s reforms, meanwhile, has led to accelerating capital flight as rich Venezuelans and private companies rush to buy assets abroad denominated in dollars or euros. The currency, the bolívar, currently trades at about 6,100 to the dollar in street trading, compared with an official rate of 2,150.

Venezuela’s state-controlled oil industry is also showing signs of strain, grappling with a purge of opposition management by Mr. Chávez and a retooling of the state oil company to focus on social welfare projects while aging oil fields need maintenance.

Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company, says it produces 3.3 million barrels a day, but OPEC places its output at just 2.4 million barrels. And private economists estimate that a third of oil production goes to meet domestic consumption, which is surging because of a subsidy that keeps gasoline prices at about seven cents a gallon.

More than nine million of Venezuelan's 16 million eligible voters went to the polls Sunday.

President of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, said the process "shows the entire world that we are a democratic country."

Chavez, in what he called a talk "from my heart" acknowledging the results, thanked those who opposed his proposal, saying the election had proven that Venezuelan democracy is maturing.

Thousands of people gathered in the streets, many of them university students who worked to defeat the measure, burst into singing their country's national anthem upon hearing the news.

Earlier in Caracas, Chavez -- clad in his trademark red shirt and cradling his grandson -- made the sign of the cross when he voted, then took his paper ballot and placed it in a box. "For me, it's a very happy day," he had said.

He dipped his right pinky in ink, collected his paper receipt from the voting machine and then gave an uncharacteristically short talk with the news media.

"Let's wait for the results tonight," he told reporters. "We'll accept them, whatever they may be."

Chavez called Venezuela's electoral system "one of the most transparent in the world," and said its voting machines are among "the most modern of the world."

If the amendments were approved, Chavez could have run for president in seven-year terms.

At present, the president's term runs six years, and current law would not allow Chavez to run again after his term ends in 2012.
Wow. Not what I would have predicted. (Continuing the great News Blog tradition of blowing election predictions. Heh.)

How 'bout them apples? Er, them barrels of oil?

At least they have paper receipts for their voting machines. Nice touch.