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Venezuela Vote Seen as Chavez Referendum

People line up outside a polling station during congressional elections in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010.

Millions of Venezuelans cast ballots Sunday in parliamentary elections seen as a referendum on President Hugo Chavez, who has been in power since 1998.

After casting his vote, President Hugo Chavez said turnout could be as high as 70 percent.

Opposition groups boycotted the last general elections five years ago, and they hold only a handful of seats in the 165-member National Assembly. This time the opposition campaigned actively, in the hope of capturing at least one-third of the seats - enough to block major legislation advancing Mr. Chavez's socialist program.

The president was not on the ballot, but the vote is seen as a referendum on Mr. Chavez himself, ahead of the next presidential election in 2012.

First results are expected several hours after the last polling stations closed late Sunday.

Mr. Chavez has campaigned heavily for Socialist Party candidates throughout Venezuela in an effort to gain the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to pass major legislation. In the coming months, he is expected to introduce measures enabling his government to nationalize small- and medium-sized businesses.

Recent polls show the Socialists just slightly ahead of the opposition umbrella group, Democratic Unity.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.