Chavez gets green light for unlimited re-election (Lead)

February 16th, 2009 - 12:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Caracas, Feb 16 (DPA) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Sunday clinched his long-sought right to seek an unlimited number of terms in office as more than 54 percent of Venezuelan voters backed a constitutional change.

Chavez’s current term is set to end in 2013.

“Unless God disposes otherwise, unless the people dispose otherwise, this soldier is already a pre-candidate to hold the presidency of the republic 2013-2019,” Chavez told supporters after the results were made official.

“Now, the best is yet to come!” he claimed.

The proposal for a constitutional referendum to allow the unlimited re-election of the president passed with 54.4 percent of the votes against 45.6 percent, according to the first official report issued late Sunday by the country’s electoral authorities.

National Electoral Council (CNE) president Tibisay Lucena called upon the winners to behave “with dignity, with pride, with calm and above all with generosity” in their celebrations in a deeply divided country. Over 94 percent of the ballots had been counted.

Within minutes, Chavez - accompanied by his daughters and grandchildren and wearing his trademark red shirt - appeared before thousands of supporters. From a balcony of the government palace in Caracas, he sang the national anthem as fireworks were set off around the city to celebrate what he called “a truly historic victory”.

“Chavez will not leave!” his followers chanted in a classic slogan.

Chavez, who celebrated the 10th anniversary of his rise to power earlier this month, said “the truth has won over lies”.

“Perseverance has won,” he said.

In December 2007, Chavez narrowly lost his first referendum effort to get such a proposal passed. Unlike then, the current proposal put forward the unlimited re-election not just of the president but also of governors and other elected officials.

He had comments for the losing camp, and included them among those who are set to benefit from the constitutional reform.

“It is a victory for Venezuela, and they are part of Venezuela!” Chavez stressed.

“I hope everyone recognises with dignity the victory of the people,” he said.

The controversial Venezuelan president read out a message of congratulations from his mentor and friend, Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

“This victory is also yours, Fidel,” Chavez said.

He refuted the fears of many who have criticised what they termed Chavez’s efforts to perpetuate himself in power.

“Nobody can make himself perpetual. It is God that is perpetual, and the homeland must be perpetual,” he shouted with passion.

Later on in his speech, again in a fiery tone, Chavez ratified his “commitment to Venezuelan socialism”.

Close to 17 million voters were registered to vote Sunday.

After a landslide election victory in 1999, Chavez - who led a failed military coup in 1992 - has ridden a wave of huge popularity, particularly among Venezuela’s poor. He quickly passed a new constitution and was inaugurated for the first of two terms possible under the new rules in 2001.

Chavez later survived a coup that actually ousted him from power for a few hours in 2002, as well as an economically devastating two-month oil strike in 2002-2003 that forced the oil-rich country to import petrol.

He also faced up to a recall referendum in 2004, which he overwhelmingly won.

In 2007, he was inaugurated for his second presidential term, and unless the constitution was changed again he would have been required to leave power in 2013.

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