Some welcome news: a narrow defeat for Chávez, a giant victory for the people of Venezuela.
CARACAS, Venezuela, Monday, Dec. 3 — Voters in this country narrowly defeated a proposed overhaul to the constitution in a contentious referendum over granting President Hugo Chávez sweeping new powers, the Election Commission announced early Monday.
It was the first major electoral defeat in the nine years of his presidency. Voters rejected the 69 proposed amendments 51 to 49 percent.
The political opposition erupted into celebration, shooting fireworks into the air and honking car horns, when electoral officials announced the results at 1:20 a.m. The nation had remained on edge since polls closed Sunday afternoon and the wait for results began.
The outcome is a stunning development in a country where Mr. Chávez and his supporters control nearly all of the levers of power. Almost immediately after the results were broadcast on state television, Mr. Chávez conceded defeat, describing the results as a “photo finish.”
Some inevitable, but nonetheless deeply tragic news: Putin's party "wins" landslide "victory" in Russian "elections."
MOSCOW, Dec. 2 —With President Vladimir V. Putin’s opponents persistently hobbled by the Kremlin, his party swept Sunday to the kind of landslide long predicted for the parliamentary elections. Yet the results, while a triumph for Mr. Putin, also usher in a new era of political instability for Russia.
Even as Mr. Putin has been accumulating power and popularity, he has been stirring deep uncertainty about his intentions, making it all but impossible to answer a fundamental question about Russia’s future: Come next spring, who will be in charge?
Yielding to the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms, Mr. Putin has said he will not be a candidate for president in March. But he has declared that he will retain significant influence, whether as prime minister, leader of his party, United Russia, or a vague role described here as “father of the nation.”
UPDATE: Also, this.
Putin’s Last Realm to Conquer: Russian Culture
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
MOSCOW — The fight is long over here for authority over the security services, the oil business, mass media and pretty much all the levers of government. Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, notwithstanding some recent anti-government protests, has won those wars, hands down, and promises to consolidate its position in parliamentary elections. But now there is concern that the Kremlin is setting its sights on Russian culture.
Just a few weeks ago, the Russian culture minister censored a state-sponsored show of Russian contemporary art in Paris. Criminal charges have been pressed during the last couple of years against at least half a dozen cultural nonconformists. A gallery owner, a rabble-rouser specializing in art that tweaks the increasingly powerful Orthodox Church and also the Kremlin, was severely beaten by thugs last year. Authorities haven’t charged anyone.
At the same time, the Kremlin is courting some big-name cultural figures like Nikita Mikhalkov, the once-pampered enfant terrible filmmaker of Soviet days, today a big promoter of Mr. Putin.
There are signs of a backlash. In late October, a television debate program pitted Viktor Yerofeyev, a prominent Russian author, against Mr. Mikhalkov, who with a few others wrote a fawning letter, supposedly in the name of tens of thousands of artists, asking the president to stay in power beyond the constitutional limit of his term in March. “Have you heard of cult of personality?” Mr. Yerofeyev asked him.
Mr. Mikhalkov fumbled. Mr. Yerofeyev won the program’s call-in vote by a large margin, an event almost unheard of on today’s Kremlin-controlled television.
Mr. Mikhalkov, on the military base outside town, was directing a sequel to his Oscar-winning “Burnt by the Sun” the other day. He was surrounded by actors in Soviet uniforms stomping their feet against the freezing cold in deep trenches dug into a vast, lonely snow-covered field. The sky was leaden gray. Aside from the Putin re-election letter, Mr. Mikhalkov has raised eyebrows lately by filming a pro-Putin election advertisement, and he produced a gushing birthday tribute to the president, which was shown on state-run television. He retreated to a trailer to hash over the debate, which, even as someone who loves attention as much as power, obviously continued to gall him.
“Why are people frightened of patriotism?” he asked. He wanted to differentiate it from xenophobia. “There’s a lot of worrying among the intelligentsia about teaching the basics of Orthodox culture. It’s a hysteria.”
Russia needs authority, he said. “Maybe for the so-called civilized world this sounds like nonsense. But chaos in Russia is a catastrophe for everyone. Even if Putin isn’t always the most democratic, he should nevertheless remain in power because we don’t know that the new president won’t begin by undoing what Putin has done.”
When I mentioned this remark to Alexander Gelman, a high-profile playwright during the perestroika days, he shook his head. “In the Soviet era there was only one party but there were plays and books that supported the idea of democracy, ” he recalled. Despite the different spelling, he is the art dealer’s father, so not exactly unbiased. That said, he made a good point: “The less democracy, the more cultural figures matter. If the tendency against democracy continues, cultural figures will gain more influence.
“It’s a disgrace for Russia that writers would replace political parties,” he added. “But maybe that is what will have to happen.”
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