Voters in two major oil states run by two increasingly difficult dictators go to the polls today. In Venezuela, up for referendum is a constitutional change that would allow Hugo Chavez to keep running and running for president until his decides not to. Given the way he has stacked the electoral deck over the past year or so, it would amount to giving him the Venezuelan presidency for life. Chavez has waged an anti-US campaign and threatened to cut off Venezuela’s supply of oil to the US if he sees or imagines any sign of American influence on the vote. Venezuela currently sells about 60% of its oil to the US; Chavez would be crippling himself if he cut off the oil. Currently polls say that NO will win out by a few points and Hugo won’t get the presidency for life, but with Chavez anything is possible including outright fraud. The blog to watch on this election is Venezuela News and Views.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party is expected to solidify its grip on the Russian parliament. Putin has waged an anti-US campaign to fire up the paranoia and stoke old memories of the Soviet empire. Different dictators, different countries, using the same villain to stoke up the hate.
Of the two elections, the Russian vote is probably the less historic, mainly because Putin has said that he doesn’t want to remain Russia’s president after next year (he’ll be term limited out of office, if he sticks to the current law, and a new president will be elected in March) and his party is expected to win. He will remain influential, but Putin would have to change the Russian constitution between now and March to remain in office, er, unless he just decides to go the full-on dictator route and dispense with the constitution altogether. That’s always a possibility. A win for Chavez, on the other hand, all but guarantees that he’ll become an oil-rich Fidel Castro and make himself a thorn in the US side for decades, and right on our southern doorstep and right next to US ally Colombia. A loss for Chavez might be enough of a blow to do him in politically. Or it might make him even more dangerous. Either way the vote goes, Venezuela probably won’t be the same afterward, while Russia will be very much the same after its vote.
Update: Putin gets his very dubious mandate.
Update: The Venezuelan government raided a Jewish center on the eve of the election.
The police raid took place as 900 Jews enjoyed an all-night wedding party at the nearby Union Israelita synagogue in Altamira, an upscale suburb of Caracas.
According to sources, members of the police unit that investigates drug-trafficking and terrorism broke the main gate of La Hebraica in the middle of the night, allegedly looking for weapons and explosives. Officers searched the premises but found nothing, the sources said.
Update: Did I mention that Venezuela News and Views is the blog to watch on this story? Well, keep an eye on that blog.