On Sunday 2 December, a series of controversial constitutional reforms proposed by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and the country’s national assembly were narrowly defeated in a public referendum widely covered by the international media. To the surprise of many inside and outside Venezuela, 50.9 per cent of voters rejected the reforms, with 49.1 per cent voting in favour of them.
The results were a particularly harsh blow for Chávez, who had told his supporters in the run up to the vote that this was the most important election of his presidency. The defeat came only a year after his resounding presidential election victory, in which he trounced the opposition candidate by nearly 26 percentage points, winning over 63 per cent of the vote. When the results were examined in more detail, it soon became clear that rather than the opposition gaining a significant number of extra votes compared to their performance in the December 2006 presidential elections, Chávez’s defeat was the result of abstentions by an important sector of those who had voted for him previously.
In the following article Venezuelan sociologist Javier Biardeau offers his analysis of why Chávez lost nearly three million supporters to abstention. In his article, which was originally published the day after the referendum, Biardeau warns of the tensions between ‘authoritarian hegemony and democratic counter-hegemony’ within ‘Chávismo’.
The second piece is by another Venezuelan sociologist, Reinaldo Iturriza, who, like Biardeau, has been closely associated with the Bolivarian process. This surveys the debates within Chávismo in the aftermath of the referendum, arguing that the process has a bright future if it learns the lessons from the defeat.
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