"Those who voted 'yes' today voted for socialism," President Hugo Chavez crowed after his victory in Sunday's national referendum to overturn Venezuela's term limits law for all offices.
Unsuccessful in his first attempt in December 2007, Chavez pulled out all stops utilizing his vast national resources and network of recipients of government largesse. His ads dominated the state-controlled media and pressure was put on his nearly 2 million state employees to campaign and vote for the measure. He also slyly broadened the term limit repeal to all offices, earning him a much broader range of influential supporters desperate to see the constitutional amendment pass. It did, with 54% of the vote.
Chavez told supporters the election was a mandate to speed his transformation of Venezuela into a socialist state. In celebration, he sent fireworks flying over the rooftops of the city while his supporters filled the streets, waving red flags and honking their car horns.
While some fraud certainly played a role, it appears so far that it was the rapidly growing powers of the Chavez incumbency that carried the day. And now, it will be permanent.
Opposition leader Omar Barboza said Chavez power is enormous with the courts, legislature and electoral council under his thumb. Term limits were the last thing limiting his ambitions.
"Effectively this will become a dictatorship," Barboza told The Associated Press. "It's control of all the powers, lack of separation of powers, unscrupulous use of state resources, persecution of adversaries."