Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, lost his referendum on constitutional reform by a tiny margin, with 4.5m votes against (50.7%) and 4.4m (49.3%) in favour. Chávez has accepted the results, saying that the proposals had not been approved “for now”, but that he would continue to struggle for his version of “socialism”.
The right-wing opposition are of course cock-a-hoop, although they have not in fact made much ground. Compared with the 2006 presidential elections, the opposition vote only increased by about 100,000 votes. However Chávez has been knocked back, losing 2.8 million votes compared with last year.
In fact 45% of voters abstained. Despite promises including a shorter working week, many workers who have previously voted for Chávez did not turn out this time to support plans to increase his powers. The proposals to extend the presidential term and to allow Chávez himself to stand over and over again were not democratic moves.
The attitude of independent socialists around Orlando Chirino and the JIR was to call for spoilt ballot papers. I think once again they were right, representing an independent working class politics between the two (albeit different) blocs.
My assessment is that this vote will push Chávez back towards his former allies, to reconcile with some elements that opposed him this time. He may well drop some of “socialist” rhetoric and some of the “participatory” schemes, aiming to have a quieter, more stable period of rule, using his new party to dampen things down.
In such circumstances, the independent socialist left outside of Chavez’s PSUV will have opportunities to agitate in workplaces and to organise themselves politically in a new workers’ party. We should support these comrades in this important work.