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Recall elections

by Marc Becker
The Monitor
September 30, 2003

Demonstrating yet again that the fate of the Americas is inherently linked, both California and Venezuela are confronting on-again off-again recall elections of their chief executives. In both cases, wealthy conservative corporate executives have funded these maneuvers to undermine the democratic will of the electorate.

Both Gray Davis, governor of California, and Hugo Chavez, president of the South American country of Venezuela, inherited fiscal crises resulting largely from the policies of their predecessors and global forces beyond their control. Because of their personal styles and certain policies, both have alienated parts of their support base. But in both cases selling the executive office to the highest bidder or having a candidate with minority support taking over will not improve the situation.

In Venezuela, left populist Hugo Chavez swept to power in 1998 with a landslide majority. He defeated the two established political parties which, like the Democratic and Republican parties in the U.S., had long held a stranglehold on power. As in the U.S., those two parties ruled at the behest of corporate power instead of on behalf of the poor majority. Chavez implemented sweeping reforms–including writing a new constitution–to make the government more accountable to the people. His goal was to establish a government for and by the people, not for and by the corporate elite.

In an attempt to make government more accountable, Venezuela’s new constitution allows for citizen referendums on elected officials halfway through their time in office. After launching a failed coup attempt in April of 2002 and a failed general strike in December of 2002, the opposition (known as the escuálidos or sordid ones by their detractors) began to use this constitutional provision against a government that for the first time is using the country’s petroleum revenue to provide education, health care, and land to those who were previously denied access to these resources.

As in California, their efforts have met various legal challenges that only a lawyer could love, until it is somewhat questionable whether either recall election will go forward. In Venezuela, as in California, the right-wing is deeply divided; they can agree on removing the office holder but not on a replacement.

Borrowing a line from Bush Junior’s playbook, Chavez’s supporters have told the opposition to “bring it on.” Most polls indicate that Chavez would lose a recall election, but the pollsters rarely go into marginalized neighborhoods or rural areas that have benefitted profoundly from his policies. In those areas, support is deep and broad for the “Bolivarian Revolution” (as these reforms are known) which he launched.

The best that can happen from these recall elections is fracturing an already deeply divided public. The worst that can happen is simply disposing of the niceties of popular sovereignty. In that case, we will have corporations selecting our governments for us. And we already know what happens when corporations rule the world: large tax cuts for the richest one percent of the population and massive rollbacks in education, health care, housing, and other services for the rest of us. The choice is ours.

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