Monday, December 03, 2007

Venezuela's Constitutional Reform: Why Did It Fail?

Venezuelans voted No to the Constitutional Reform, 50.7% to 49.3%. The turnout was 56%. That is a much lower level of participation than in the presidential elections of 2006, which saw the turnout of 75%. Simon Romero reports:
Turnout in some poor districts was unexpectedly low, indicating that even the president’s backers were willing to follow him only so far. Some Chávez supporters expressed concern that if they voted against the measures they might be retaliated against. Turnout of registered voters was just 56 percent.

There was no line in front of the voting center at the Cecilio Acosta school in Petare on Sunday morning, as a few dozen people who had already voted milled about the street. Some volunteers working the voting machines sat idle, waiting for more voters to arrive. Other voting centers in Petare had lines outside, but they were less than half a block long.

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Confusion persisted Sunday over the amendments, with a major complaint among the president’s supporters and critics that they had too little time to study the proposals. ("Opposition Cheers Defeat of Chávez Plan in Venezuela," New York Times, 4 December 2006)
I suspect that Romero is for once correct: the reform proposal, a sprawling package that mixes means with ends, i.e., measures to dramatically augment the executive power with policies to achieve egalitarian goals (from social security for informal-sector workers to prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation), was neither well understood nor thoroughly debated, let alone wholly embraced, by even all of Chavistas.


John Riddell and Suzanne Weiss's report confirms the lack of education about the contents of the Constitutional Reform:
We saw little evidence of public discussion. Efforts were being made to circulate the text of the reforms, which filled several dozen pages of legalistic prose. But at first, we saw these distributions only close by the National Assembly. Not until the last few days did we see "red points" -- with tables, banners, and music -- carrying out the distributions across the city. In the last week, a "dual-column" version was also distributed. We spent time pouring over it, trying to grasp the changes, but it was slow going. Only in the final few days before the vote did we see flyers that attempted to summarize the changes. ("After Referendum Defeat, Chávez Pledges to Continue the Struggle: A Report from Caracas," MRZine, 9 December 2007)

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