Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, is not feeling the love. Collapsing oil prices have sharply curtailed his ability to buy public sympathies, and Barack Obama’s election has removed the United States as a convenient foe to be berated as needed to energise his base. In Sunday’s state and municipal elections, Venezuelans showed just how fed up they are with his government’s authoritarianism and incompetence by rejecting the president’s allies in significant races.

Chávez did pretty much everything he could to skew the elections. For all the rhetoric about revolution and social change, the Chávez era also has brought Venezuelans soaring food prices, overflowing sewers and a surge in gang violence. The lesson from Sunday’s defeat — less than a year after voters rejected his plan for a power-grabbing constitutional reform — is that Venezuelans don’t want to give Chávez even more power.

He should heed the message. Rather than lash out at his opponents, Chávez must accept democratic limits to his rule. He should stop trying to extend his control — by hook or crook — over all of Venezuela’s political and economic institutions. He should abandon for good his push to change the Constitution so that he can run for a third term in 2013. Ven-ezuelans deserve the cha-nce to choose a competent government.