CARACAS, Venezuela — The president is warning of fascist plots by imperialist sympathizers to destabilize the country. The opposition is warning of an impending dictatorship. Both groups have taken to the streets while riot police hover and tear gas flows liberally over university campuses.
It's election time in election-loving Venezuela, which is perhaps only rivaled by California in its zeal for referendums, and President Hugo Chavez is giving the people a second chance to decide whether he should be allowed to run for office again … and again.
Venezuelans already voted against scrapping term limits in December 2007, when the question was part of a larger constitutional overhaul. But with oil prices going down the drain, imperiling the president's main source of financing and likely forcing very tough economic decisions in the coming months, analysts calculate that now is precisely the time for Chavez to put his popularity to the test.
"Chavez has been eager to bring this to another vote … before the effects of falling oil prices set in," said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue. "It is a big gamble for Chavez … but in his mind there is no other option to keep this revolutionary process going forward."
In 2007, Chavez put forth a measure that would abolish term limits only for the president while still capping time served by state and local officials. The proposal, which provoked widespread opposition, was the most controversial among a whole package of proposed changes.
Likely realizing that he overreached in the previous referendum, Chavez is now proposing a constitutional amendment that would abolish term limits for all elected officials.
The latest attempt comes months after the president's party won a majority of seats in municipal and state-level elections.