Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Chavez latest: calling a spade a spade
Have I or have I not already said that the essence of democracy is that it can vote itself out of existence at any time?
No need to search back through old posts. I have and it is.
Knowing this, however, doesn’t make it less painful to watch when it happens.
So Hugo Chavez has been given the people’s blessing (via referendum) to run again and again and again for President. Because the 10 years he’s already had in power are not long enough.
Mr Chavez is popular. He is charismatic, he is loudly anti-American and that always goes down well with the masses the world over. His socialist programme has moved many but the jury is still out on his effectiveness as a president. To put it mildly.
Nevertheless when he announced that he needs to stick around for another term after this current one expires in 2012, in order to consolidate Venezuela’s socialist revolution, the referendum was called and the people spoke: 54% backed an end to term limits. In other words, 54% chose ‘more Chavez’.
Chavez’s time in office so far has not been smooth and uncomplicated.
Removed from office for 2 days by an abortive coup, winning a recall referendum and several elections, you may say that his survival in office despite the hurdles is a sign of the people’s will and his own determination.
You may also say that this is not the first time he tried to ensure he can run indefinitely – a similar attempt in 2007 failed but that, evidently, did not put him off. And now, 2 years on, he got the constitutional amendment he was after in a vote that was described by observers as free and fair. Although critics claim that government funding and blanket TV coverage (a Chavez speciality) swayed the vote, no allegations of fraud have been made.
So the people have spoken and, in a democracy, the popular will wins the day. Right? Right.
And it is within the people’s power to scrap the limits on how often politicians can run for office, right? Right.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Democracy is all about voting and free choice, of course, but it’s also a system that relies on certain vital ‘mechanical’ elements in order to actually function. One of them is checks and balances. One of those is the limit on how many times someone can run for office.
So democracy can vote itself out of existence alright, but once it’s done that, let us not kid ourselves, it no longer exists.