Monday, 16 February 2009

Venezuela's Term Limits

[If there is one thing that Chavista and anti-Chavista pollers share, it's a significant shift in support for the referendum in recent weeks. To fully grasp why this has happened, we need to look more closely at the political dynamics underlying the process, and how these dynamics have come to bear on the impending election.]

Venezuela's Term Limits

February 14th 2009, by George Cicariello-Maher - CounterPunch

The story is a familiar one. Amid the collapse of two-party dominance, an independent leader rises to power. In an effort to calm frazzled nerves, he insists he will respect the rule of law and the will of the voters by maintaining the peaceful transfer of power at the end of his legally-established term. "There's no organization that I know that would put somebody in charge for a long period of time," he insists, "you always want turnover and change." But in power for nearly eight years, having established a fervent support base and concentrated power in his own hands, our fair leader no longer feels the need to comfort his opponents, and his discourse radicalizes as his view of term limits shifts. Dismissing his opposition as rigid "dogmatists," the leader now insists on the need to change course flexibly to meet circumstances. True and sustained change, he argues, requires the continuity of his successful leadership.

Unsurprisingly, his opponents fiercely oppose the move as dangerous: "It shows a fundamental contempt for the democratic process," one maintains, "and it's changing the rules to benefit yourself directly." Ironically, it was this very same argument that the leader himself had made five years prior, when vetoing efforts to loosen term limits. Not without controversy, then, was the decision of the region's largest newspaper--aligned politically with the leader--to wade into these conflictive waters with the following declaration:

The bedrock of... democracy is the voters' right to choose. Though well intentioned... the term limits law severely limits that right, which is why this page has opposed term limits from the outset... Term limits are seductive, promising relief from mediocre, self-perpetuating incumbents and gridlocked legislatures. They are also profoundly undemocratic, arbitrarily denying voters the ability to choose between good politicians and bad.

While the paper had previously insisted that any change to term limits come through popular referendum, it now reverses this view, taking the position that for reasons of political expediency, a simple vote in the small executive council will do.

Of which banana republic are we speaking, where thinly-veiled authoritarianism threatens democratic checks and balances, and weak-kneed apologists parade about under the banner of free press? Why, the place is none other than New York City, the leader none other than Michael Bloomberg, and the newspaper none other than the New York Times. Patience: we haven't even gotten to the hypocrisy part yet.

"Hugo Chávez's Choice"

Term limits have a long history, dating from ancient Greece and Rome and Aristotle's concept of "ruling and being ruled in turn." With a trademark selectiveness (see, e.g., Senate Report 104-158), those upholding the sanctity of this standard in U.S. politics do so with no mention of the other elements Aristotle would associate with democracy, most obviously the filling of all positions by random lot (except for generals, or strategoi, who in an intriguing inversion of our own system, were to be elected). And nor is there much mention of those countries in the wealthy world which see no need for such limitations, or those celebrated leaders who have accomplished purportedly historic tasks without such fetters: Tony Blair served for 10 years, Margaret Thatcher for 11. Franklin D. Roosevelt, consistently ranked among the greatest U.S. presidents served for 12, and would have served for 16 had he survived. And this is not to mention the unlimited terms available to U.S. senators and representatives.

(click here to view entire article)

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