Chavez Suffers A Setbackby Doug Mataconis
In what can only be characterized as a surprise, Venezuelans narrowly defeated President Hugo Chavez’s latest bid to amend the country’s Constitution to expand his power:
CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 3 — Venezuelan voters delivered a stinging defeat to President Hugo Chávez on Sunday, blocking proposed constitutional changes that would have given him political supremacy and accelerated the transformation of this oil-rich country into a socialist state.
Hours after the final ballots were cast, the National Electoral Council announced at 1:15 a.m. local time Monday that voters, by a margin of 51 to 49 percent, had rejected 69 reforms to the 1999 constitution. The modifications would have permitted the president to stand for reelection indefinitely, appoint governors to provinces he would create and control Venezuela’s sizable foreign reserves.
The victory for the “No” vote represents the first electoral setback for Chávez, 53, a former lieutenant colonel who won the presidency in a 1998 landslide and, until now, had trounced his opponents in one referendum and presidential election after another. Political analysts had said last week that the populist leader had lost standing this year after implementing unpopular policies, such as canceling a television station’s broadcast license and displaying increasingly erratic behavior in verbal spats with foreign leaders.
The extent of the public’s frustration with Chavez became clear a few weeks ago when an offhand remark by the King of Spain became the rallying cry for opponents of the constitutional changes that Chavez was advocating.
This isn’t the end of Chavez, of course. He remains in office through the end of 2012, which is more than enough time to stir up trouble at home and abroad.