On Sunday, the Venezuelan people rejected President Hugo Chavez's constitutional reforms, which could have made him dictator for life, says The Boston Globe.
Chavez wanted powers to extend the presidential term (joking that he wanted to be in power in 2050), take control of the central bank, end private property guarantees and detain people without charge in a state of emergency.
The package amounted to a "personal coup against democracy" and would have "eviscerated Venezuela's civil liberties", says The Wall Street Journal. Venezuela's students deserve special mention for the outcome: they have braved tear gas and riot police in cities across the country, responding only with open palms and cries for liberty.
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To his credit, Chavez allowed the opposition to make its case and let the votes be counted honestly, says The Boston Globe. But he is unaccustomed to losing and unlikely to retreat quietly.
Since becoming president in 1998, he has survived a coup attempt, a recall campaign and two re-election contests. He has pledged that he will get his reforms accomplished without changing a single word. He is still very powerful, agrees The New York Times, but there is at least hope that political competition can now flourish.
This defeat "shows what can happen when a divided opposition unites and voters choose the rule of law over the whims of a strong man". And the opposition is very real, says the FT. It wasn't just the measures the people were rejecting, but the man.
There are serious problems in Venezuela. Bumper oil revenues have allowed Chavez to spend generously on healthcare, education and subsidised food, but "state intervention, price and exchange rate controls and declining investment have created big distortions". In spite of price controls, inflation is running at 20% annually and there are widespread shortages of basic foods. Unless he starts to "deliver competent governance", this defeat will "mark the beginning of the end for the Venezuelan leader".
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