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Venezuelans Reject Constitutional Changes


Venezuelan voters have rejected a sweeping constitutional reform project launched by President Hugo Chavez. In Caracas, VOA's Brian Wagner reports opposition leaders see the vote as a major blow to the president's efforts to impose socialist changes.

Election tallies continued past midnight, when officials finally released a count indicating a narrow victory for opponents of the constitutional reform. It was the first election defeat for President Chavez, who helped write the nation's constitution shortly after taking office in 1999.

In a nationwide address, Mr. Chavez congratulated his adversaries for their victory and said there is a long battle ahead. The president said the reform plan is not dead yet, suggesting he may try again to turn the proposals into law.

Mr. Chavez's former defense minister, Raul Baduel, who emerged as a chief critic of the plan, congratulated the nation for conducting a peaceful vote. The retired general said the vote showed Venezuela's people had resisted pressure to enshrine individual desires into the constitution.

General Baduel said the president tried to force the Venezuelan people to accept a reform plan that he proposed, and said he manipulated the people's feelings in an effort to win its approval. He also warned that Mr. Chavez may use other means, such as executive order, to pass some of the measures, which include ending term limits on the presidency.

Other proposals would abolish the independence of the Central Bank, limit individual rights under states of emergency, and create new forms of community-owned property.

The vote ends a tense campaign period, which included repeated protests by opposition groups and violent clashes with police.

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