June 26, 2008 2:25PM

If You Can’t Win Against Them, Remove Them from The Ballot

The Economist recently reported about Hugo Chávez’s abrupt changes of mind. One day he decrees an intelligence law that turns Venezuela into a police state, the next day he denounces it. One day he calls for political recognition for the FARC guerillas in Colombia, the next one he asks them to put down their arms.

One explanation for Chávez’s more conciliatory tone lately is that he’s facing gubernatorial elections in November. His popularity has plummeted to 20%--a record low--and since his party controls all but two governorships in Venezuela, it’s very likely that Chávez will suffer heavy losses in the election.

But, trying to be more likeable isn’t enough to win at the ballot box if the economy is falling apart, so Chávez is taking no chances with the opposition. This is how the Office of the General Comptroller—an institution controlled by Chávez—has disqualified 400 politicians of the opposition from running in November. Among the disqualified is Leopoldo López, the popular mayor of Chacao, a municipality of Caracas, who has become one of the leaders of the fragmented opposition.

It seems that Chávez will try to force his way to an electoral victory in November. The question is: How far is he willing to go?