MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti international commentator Ivan Zakharchenko) - Some Venezuelans don't like Hugo Chavez because they fear losing power and wellbeing.
Others, on the other hand, love their president but still fear he might go too far in his attempts to build "democratic socialism," and never solve social problems.
It seems those who fear he may go too far have multiplied, which led to the Venezuelan leader's defeat at last Sunday's referendum on constitutional reform.
Chavez had put up 69 amendments to the fundamental law of the country for consideration, including lifting all the restrictions on reelecting the same person president, introducing the practice of appointing not electing the heads of local administrations, declaring martial law for an indefinite period of time, and limiting the freedom of the press.
Their adoption would have meant the proclamation of socialism in Venezuela, the country considered to be the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States.
Observers note that most Venezuelans have shown that they do not share Chavez's views, no matter how attractive his social and economic projects could be; he wanted to cut the working day from eight to six hours and set up public councils for the distribution of government funds.
The amendments were only supported by 49% of the referendum voters, while 51% opposed them.
A year ago more than seven million people backed Chavez in the presidential election, but now he has lost the support of some three million.
True, there is the view that many failed to turn up, secure in the knowledge that Chavez would win anyway. But this did not happen.
The 53-year-old president, who came to power in 1998 and conceded defeat at the present referendum, explained the situation by doubts and fears felt by the population. He also attributed it to the lack of time for explaining the gist of the program leading to the victory of socialism. But, analysts believe, Chavez simply overestimated his popularity in the country.
Emil Dabagyan, a leading research fellow at the Center for Political Studies of the Institute of Latin America, said the referendum results are a "good barometer of the sentiment changes in Venezuelan society."
"The opposition managed to accumulate these sentiments, while the ruling bloc began breaking up, and a shaky balance set in, with Chavez losing support from the upper and middle classes and from the ruling camp as well," the expert said.
Reports from Caracas say that Chavez's socialist program did have success in the past nine years owing to his populist policies and rising oil prices, but many of his former supporters are now disappointed with the shortages and high prices of essential items, such as milk, eggs and sugar. They are also dissatisfied with the growth of crime and the president's growing personality cult. The people have finally expressed their disagreement and reluctance to follow Chavez all the way to the socialist future unless he satisfies their current needs.
Still, the opposition's victory at the referendum in Venezuela has not knocked Chavez out. He still has five years in office ahead of him, and he will make every effort to reach his goals. The opposition parties are still weak and disunited; they do not have a leader who would be a match for Hugo Chavez.
Moreover, he is already trying to use the results of the referendum for his own ends making it out as an encouraging sign of a functional democracy, and therefore the accusations of him being a dictator are groundless and poorly argued.
Chavez's social programs, including healthcare and education, are still popular with low-income families. The president, who is obviously a very gifted politician, swore he would continue to build socialism and was not going to change his plans.
The opposition, inspired by its first victory, also has time and will have plenty of opportunities to launch an offensive. For example, certain experts have mentioned the constitutional possibility of holding a referendum on Chavez's early resignation. One such attempt was made in 2004, but the president won that round.
The current situation could prove different, and whatever Hugo Chavez's political talents, Venezuela will never be a "second Cuba" in South America.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.