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2585Chavez wins Venezuela vote: sources

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  • Greg Cannon
    Dec 2, 2007

      Chavez wins Venezuela vote: sources

      By Saul Hudson and Ana Isabel Martinez Sun Dec 2, 6:34
      PM ET

      CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
      appeared headed for victory on Sunday in a referendum
      on allowing the leftist to rule for as long as he
      keeps winning elections, government-linked sources
      said, citing exit polls.

      Three exit polls showed the anti-American leader won
      by between six and eight percentage points in a vote
      where turnout was low, the two sources said.

      If his victory is confirmed, the referendum vote on a
      raft of reforms would allow Chavez -- in office since
      1999 -- to run for reelection indefinitely, control
      foreign currency reserves, appoint loyalists over
      regional elected officials and censor the media if he
      declares an emergency.

      Chavez has said he wants to rule for life and turn the
      major oil exporter into a socialist state.

      The opposition was skeptical of the government
      sources' exit poll data.

      "According to our information, it is a statistical
      tie," said Leopoldo Lopez, a popular mayor of a
      Caracas municipality. He did not give details of any
      exit polls, other than to say the difference was "two
      points up, two points down."

      Most pre-vote opinion surveys predicted a close vote
      on the package of constitutional changes that the
      opposition and even some former longtime allies say is

      Pollsters had said a low turnout would favor Chavez,
      who activated a state-backed get-out-the-vote campaign
      against an underfunded, fragmented opposition.

      The left-wing leader, a fierce critic of the United
      States and close ally of communist Cuba, has never
      lost a national vote and had predicted he would win by
      at least 10 points.

      "SENT BY GOD"

      Even before any official results' were announced, some
      of Chavez's supporters began to celebrate.

      Dressed in red and waving Venezuela's
      red-blue-and-yellow national flag, they danced in the
      streets and drove cars and motorcycles around Caracas
      honking horns.

      "The reform is very important for the country, we want
      to support our president," said Marlene Vanegas, 70,
      who described herself as a "full-time revolutionary"
      and Chavez loyalist. "he was sent to us by God."

      The government-linked sources said two exit polls
      showed Chavez won 53 percent of the vote, compared
      with 47 percent for the "No" camp, and another showed
      54 percent to 46 percent.

      Led by a mix of political parties and university
      students, the opposition had pointed to some
      pre-referendum polls showing it could win.

      It has lost to Chavez in almost yearly national votes
      and also failed to topple him with a coup in 2002, a
      national strike and a recall referendum.

      Foreign investors worry that the opposition could
      contest the result if it suspects fraud, sparking
      political turbulence after a campaign marred by
      violent street clashes.

      "(The vote) will deepen divisions and polarization,"
      said Jesus Ghersi, 25, an engineering student serving
      as an official poll watcher for the opposition.

      Many Venezuelans believed the vote was a pivotal
      moment for the OPEC nation.

      "We decide the future," the El Nacional newspaper said
      in a headline that covered much of its front-page on

      Chavez wants the new constitution endorsed to give him
      a mandate to create a Cuba-inspired socialist state.
      After his landslide reelection a year ago, he decreed
      sweeping nationalizations, and promises more state
      intervention in the economy if he wins the referendum.

      Opposition leaders complain his policies are a
      throwback to failed systems such as the Soviet Union
      and communist Cuba.

      "If they approve this reform, as of midnight tonight
      we have turned into a communist country. I'm convinced
      of that," said Elias Martinez, 55, an actor.

      (For more on Venezuela's referendum, click on

      (Additional reporting by Fabian Andres Cambero,
      Patricia Rondon and Jorge Silva, Writing by Saul
      Hudson; Editing by Kieran Murray)