Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez has suffered his first electoral defeat since coming to power nine years ago.
Voters rejected a referendum package which would have scrapped term limits and let the government censor media.
In a fiercely contested ballot, the “No” camp won with about 51 per cent of the vote.
Chavez conceded defeat, telling his rivals: “I didn’t give you this victory, but it is yours.” He added that it would not make any change to his socialist project.
“Now I’m going to sleep soundly for a few hours,” he said, adding a word of warning to those who would be celebrating to not let the result go to their heads.
Celebrations erupted throughout Caracas with opposition activists cheering, honking horns and waving flags. Many said Venezuela had narrowly escaped the imposition of authoritarian rule.
“We must admit that a part of the Venezuelan society has supported the president,” said opposition leader Raul Baduel, a former Chavez ally, “but today they have also made it clear that there’s place for disidence in unity.”
Despite the defeat, Chavez said the reform proposals remained “alive,” suggesting he might try to push them through at a later stage.