By Saul Hudson and Ana Isabel Martinez
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 Chavez won by between six and eight percentage points in a vote where turnout was low, the two sources said.
If confirmed, it would be by far the slimmest victory margin in the career of a man who wants to rule for life and turn the major oil exporter into a socialist state.
Most pre-vote opinion surveys predicted a close vote on a package of constitutional changes that the opposition and even some former longtime allies say is authoritarian.
The reforms would allow Chavez to run for reelection indefinitely, control foreign currency reserves, appoint loyalists over regional elected officials and censor the media if he declares an emergency.
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, has never lost a national vote and had predicted he would win by at least 10 points.
"SENT BY GOD"
"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 opposition, which Chavez has soundly defeated in almost yearly votes, had pointed to some pre-referendum polls showing it could win.
"In my opinion, these are not the (real) numbers. The government is wrong," said Delsa Solorzano, a member of the New Time party at the opposition's referendum headquarters in Caracas.
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. Continued ...
Hugo Chavez's gamble in Venezuela appears to have paid off with it looking like he has won a narrow victory to abolish presidential term limits and allow him to serve as President as long as he continues to win elections.
Two government exit polls suggested most voters approved sweeping revisions to abolish presidential term limits and enshrine socialism. The opposition was sombre but did not immediately concede defeat.
Turnout appeared to be low despite claims from both sides that a yes vote would mark a radical acceleration towards what Chávez terms "21st century socialism". The 53-year-old president said last week he would rule until 2050, as long as he continued winning elections.
Of course the CIA are reported to have plans to undo all of this in the near future.
On a scarier note, an internal CIA memorandum has been obtained by Venezuelan counterintelligence from the US Embassy in Caracas that reveals a very sinister - almost fantastical, were it not true - plan to destabilize Venezuela during the coming days. The plan, titled "OPERATION PLIERS" was authored by CIA Officer Michael Middleton Steere and was addressed to CIA Director General Michael Hayden in Washington.
The Largest Minority cover just what exactly the CIA plan consists of:
How is this to be done?
In the memo, the CIA proposes the following tactics and actions:
Take the streets and protest with violent, disruptive actions across the nation
Generate a climate of ungovernability
Provoke a general uprising in a substantial part of the population
Engage in a “plan to implode” the voting centers on election day by encouraging opposition voters to “VOTE and REMAIN” in their centers to agitate others
Start to release data during the early hours of the afternoon on Sunday that favor the NO vote (in clear violation of election regulations)
Coordinate these activities with Ravell & Globovision and international press agencies
Coordinate with ex-militar officers and coupsters Pena Esclusa and Guyon Cellis - this will be done by the Military Attache for Defense and Army at the US Embassy in Caracas, Office of Defense, Attack and Operations (DAO)
The Largest Minority also have a video page regarding Venezuela which gives great details of the CIA plan to undermine any victory that Chavez may have by claiming voter fraud.
Bang on cue, the opposition have begun to make claims that there has, indeed, been fraud at the ballot box:
"In my opinion, these are not the (real) numbers. The government is wrong," claimed Delsa Solorzano, a member of the New Time party at the opposition's referendum headquarters in Caracas. Earlier, Mr Chavez said voting was going well. "We're going to accept the results, whatever they are."
Chavez continues to be portrayed as a dictator within the US media, no doubt to make his overthrow seem like the height of democratic reform, when - in fact - nothing could be further from the truth.
The word “Chavez” and “dictator” are usually not spaced too far apart from corporate media coverage of the events in Venezuela. Little mention is given to the fact that the people of Venezuela have voted in favor of Chavez and his reforms on no less than 11 occasions, which in many books makes him the most heavily elected official on the planet, or at least creates a very strange definition of the word “dictator”.
So, is George Bush, the man who wants to export democracy around the world, about to overturn another democratic election result because - once again - the electorate have foolishly chosen the wrong party? If he is, it really does make a mockery of his supposed love of democracy.
The BBC are now reporting that Chavez has actually lost the referendum and has swiftly conceded defeat.
Mr Chavez swiftly conceded and urged the opposition to show restraint.
"To those who voted against my proposal, I thank them and congratulate them," he said. "I ask all of you to go home, know how to handle your victory."
He insisted that he would "continue in the battle to build socialism".
"Don't feel sad," he told his supporters, saying there were "microscopic differences" between the "yes" and "no" options.
He said the reforms had failed "for now" but they were "still alive"