Chavez wins Venezuela vote: sources
By Saul Hudson and Ana Isabel Martinez Sun Dec 2, 6:34
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
"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)