Viva democracy

2007-12-05 00:00

Populist Venezuelan leader President Hugo Chavez, a self-styled revolutionary and friend and ally of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, received something of a slap in the face from the Venezuelan people at the weekend.

This came in the form of the result of a referendum, which was a “No” to a package of reforms that included as sweeteners a decrease in weekly working hours and a reduction of the voting age from 18 to 16. However, most of the changes related to Chavez’s own powers: he asked for a scrapping of limits on his rule — so that he could be president for life if he wished — and for the right to expropriate private property and to censor the media in emergencies.

There are, of course, many very poor Venezuelans, to whom Chavez’s blandishments may have seemed attractive, but those better informed were not seduced or deceived, and fought fiercely for their small, but very significant, 51% victory.

Venezuela is a long way from southern Africa and events there may seem irrelevant to us. Let's not forget, though, that we have as our immediate northern neighbour a grim example of what happens when a people allows a leader to dismantle democracy piece by piece while at the same paying pious lip service to it. Venezuela should, therefore, be an inspiration and a warning to ourselves and to other African countries to be alert to the agendas of would-be dictators and to insist, at the ballot box and in every other possible way, that democracy is here to stay.

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