Ken Livingstone: Should we have stopped Roosevelt after two terms?

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The Independent Online

Only the media make the argument that there should be time limits on holding power, and that's because someone losing and a changing of the guard makes for a better story and sells more newspapers. As long as a leader still has the support of the people, he should be allowed to stay in power.

Term limits really only started being en vogue after they were introduced in the US in 1951 following the death of Franklin Roosevelt during his fourth term in office. But just imagine if he'd been obliged to retire before the US elections of 1940. The Nazis might have been faced with an isolationist Washington giving them free rein over Europe.

So I see nothing wrong with Hugo Chavez, the man who has done so much for Venezuela, wanting to have more time to finish the job, as long as the public keeps wanting to elect him. Venezuela used to be run by 100 or so rich oligarch families, who stole all the wealth. Chavez said "Enough". He nationalised the oil industry so the country's resources could benefit all of the country's people. It is a huge achievement, he has paved the way for Venezuela to propel itself into the First World. He has brought literacy to children and adults; he has brought health care to people who had never seen a doctor before in their lives. Of course, there is more to do. Mr Chavez has been stymied in tackling crime and particularly the high murder rate because the police forces are under local control. The referendum he lost in 2007 aimed to sort that out. The other handicap he faces is that the middle class is still very small and there are not the technical skills that you need to build a society.

Mr Chavez came to Tony Blair's Third Way seminar in 1999 precisely because he was looking for this assistance and expertise but the West – and especially America – has always told him no.

Tomorrow's referendum is an important moment for the Chavez project and for Venezuela. The only reason some politicians want term limits is because they don't trust the people to choose. And to those who say that being the long-time incumbent confers an unfair advantage in elections, I say: "Well how come I didn't get elected for a third term as London mayor last year then?"



Ken Livingstone is the former mayor of London

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