President Hugo Chávez won a national referendum in Venezuela today that allows him to stand for re-election far into the future.
Fireworks exploded in the sky and thousands of supporters celebrated in the streets, waving red flags and honking car horns as Mr Chávez’s win was announced, with 54 per cent voting in favour of the constitutional amendment after 94 per cent of the vote had been counted.
“Today we opened wide the gates of the future. Venezuela will not return to its past of indignity,” Mr Chávez proclaimed after singing the national anthem from the balcony of his Miraflores Palace in Caracas.
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As Venezuelans turned out in huge numbers to vote on a constitutional amendment that would overturn term limits for elected officials, Mr Chávez hailed the referendum as the historic culmination of the Venezuelan fight against US imperialism, leaving it “really and truly free, really and truly sovereign”.
He says that he needs another 10 years in power to complete his Bolivarian revolution, a process that has seen the State take control of much of Venezuela’s oil wealth, expropriate private landholdings and factories and implement a far-reaching programme of social reforms. Opponents have condemned the plan as an attempt to establish a lifetime presidency in the model of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a close Chávez ally.
Under the current constitution, created by Mr Chávez after his election in 1998, the President would have to stand down in 2012, when he reaches the end of his two-term limit. He claims the amendment would expand Venezuelan voters’ power to choose, noting that Franklin Roosevelt was elected US President four times.