Ben Buchwalter

Venezuela’s Term Limits Reverberate to NYC

Last night, Venezuela’s staunchly anti-American President Hugo Chavez won a major referendum to lift the country’s term limits, effectively allowing Chavez to run for a third (or forth or fifth) 6-year term. Chavez, one of the world’s leading socialist voices, was first elected President in 2002, and was reelected last year.

At first, this smacked of political manipulation, essentially the beginning of one-party, one-man rule in Venezuela. But how is Chavez’s desire for additional terms any different from Michael Bloomberg’s? Late last year, Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, petitioned the City Council to waive its term limits to allow him to seek a third term.

The New York Times supported Bloomberg’s request. Term limits, the Times editorial board stressed, denied New Yorkers “the right to decide for themselves whether an effective and popular mayor should stay in office.” The Times continued to argue that term limits arbitrarily deny voters the right to delineate between good and bad politicians, and unnecessarily remove effective leaders at the height of their productivity.

Reading this editorial at the time, it seemed odd and isolated to Bloomberg’s case. These types of decisions should not be made in a vacuum. If term limits are inherently undemocratic and destructive, then they should be abolished. If term limits serve a necessary purpose (and I think that they do), then they should remain. But term limits should not be waived for people you like (Bloomberg) and upheld those you don’t (Chavez).

I’m curious to hear what the New York Times editorial board thinks about this.

Tom Ginsburg (via Andrew Sullivan) speaks directly to concerns about leaders overstaying their term limit welcome.

Chavez’ power grab, pursued through perfectly legal channels, exposes the Achilles’ heel of the rule of law: so long as you abide by its principles, you can do just about anything, including changing the rules to extend your control. The rule of law, as conventionally defined, requires that laws be clear, open, and equally applied to individuals and government alike.


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