December 02, 2007

Two ballots to watch this day, one in Russia, the other in Venezuela.

Risking most, Hugo Chavez perhaps has most to lose. His referendum, if it passes, will result in sweeping changes to the constitution: introducing social security for informal workers and encouraging popular participation in government; but also giving him far more power than before, potentially even moving him into a position where he could be president for life. By linking social reform with the increase in personal power, it is an interesting political quandry he sets before the voters. Probably the original reforms had been needed -- an urgent erosion of economic colonialism masquerading as external corporate power -- but where have those reforms led? Sales of luxury goods are up in Venezuela; but price-fixed staples are difficult to obtain. Domestic resources have been reclaimed; but half the population still lives in poverty despite the domestic cheapest fuel prices in the world. It is an easy trap that others around the world and of all political stripes have slipped into before this: that, having a vision, more and more power must be needed to drag all others into the path of that vision. Regardless of the outcome, perhaps Chavez' most potent legacy is inspiring others such as Bolivian president Juan Evo Morales Ayma: who may yet find the ability to set a new grassroots example where Chavez is faltering.

Don't be surprised at the degree of popular support that will be shown in this election for Vladmir Putin. Whatever else, Putin has almost single-handedly made his country once again into a world power, a strong Russia. Most Russian citizens appreciate that. (Those who find the spectre of a more potent Russia an uncomfortable shadow might remember that more and longer periods of almost not-war occurred during the post-WW2 balance of three superpowers than at any point before or since; and the global loss of life due to war was far less.) Probably Putin will observe the letter of the law in limiting himself to the two maximum terms of the existing constitution: but other positions could also be made to carry more power.

Even so, it might be advisable for the election fraud monitors in both areas to be out in force. Much has been invested, here: and neither can afford to lose.

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