Alvaro Vargas Llosa, writing at The New Republic, argues that there is a silver lining to Chavez’s Sunday victory:
Even though the opposition was not able to defeat Chavez this time, the referendum confirmed that he still faces millions of Venezuelans who abhor his regime. The opposition obtained 45.6 percent of the vote–9 percentage points more than in 2006, when Chavez won his third term. The “no” vote won in five key states and got more than 40 percent in nine others. He was only able to win in one of the five states governed by the opposition–and lost the state of Merida, governed by a Chavista.
If in next year’s legislative elections the opposition obtains similar results, it will control almost half of the National Assembly–a big shift with respect to the current situation, with Chavez in total control because the opposition boycotted legislative elections in 2005.
Perhaps more significantly, the results confirm that Chavez’s base in the major urban centers, where Venezuela’s biggest slums are concentrated, has been seriously eroded: His power is increasingly reliant on the more rural or provincial parts of the country. The symbolism of Chavez’s defeat in Petare, a major slum in Caracas, cannot be overstated. The penetration by the opposition into Chavez’s former base has much to do with inflation and food shortages, a social drama that I witnessed a few months ago during an extensive visit to Caracas’ poorest quarters. In the current world recession, things are likely to get worse.
I wish I shared his optimism.
The thing is, by controlling all the branches of government, the military, and the electoral board, Chavez will remain in power for as long as he wishes. And he can do it under the guise of “elections”.
As I pointed out last Monday in my Real Clear World post, with this win Chavez continues to consolidate power around himself. The underlying theme of Chavez’s entire administration of the past 10 years has been power consolidation. Even if there is a total collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Chavez possibly can continue to stay on. It would be hard for him to do so, but with the support of the military, the courts, and other institutions, it would not be impossible.
The problem is that Chavez is still in power, and will remain in power, and still controls the levers of power, and is more powerful than he was last week. So while there may be cause for optimism — with the country seemingly trending against Chavez — tyranny, if not quite totalitarianism, is still the order of the day. And that isn’t about to change anytime soon.