This is the second time in a year that the opposition has made ground against Chavez. Last year the president had to accept a “No” vote in a referendum on his plan to extend presidential powers and lift limits on how long a president can stay in office. Chavez admitted defeat, but at the same time highlighted the strength of his support. “The fact that 49 percent voted or the socialist project, despite everything, I think is a great political step, a great political leap,” he said.
Chavez was first elected in 1998. A year later he won a referendum on sweeping economic and political reforms, including a move towards state ownership of the oil industry. Presidential terms were also extended from five to six years and the green light was given for two consecutive presidential mandates. Chavez now says he wants to change the law so he can run again for office in 2012, despite the “No” vote last December. He has also pledged to push ahead with plans to extend his nationalisation programme, seizing assets from landowners or food companies if need be.
The man who calls former Cuban president Fidel Castro his mentor is standing firm, even though revenue from exports are plummeting. But some observers say the electoral successes of the opposition could force Chavez to reassess whether he has the mandate for more change.