Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has won a referendum vote which will allow him to stand for re-election as many times as he likes.
With 94 per cent of votes counted, 54 per cent approved a constitutional amendment to remove term limits according to officials from the National Electoral Council. Now Chavez will be able to remain in power beyond his second term – due to end in 2013 – as long as he remains undefeated at the ballot box. “The victory today is a victory for all Venezuela,” Chavez told cheering crowds. “A victory for those who did not vote and for those who vote no. Even if they do not accept defeat and do not understand that it is a victory for Venezuela, they are part of Venezuela.” A retired army paratrooper who once led a failed coup before winning power in an election, Chavez has survived an attempt to oust him by force and two national strikes. He has the loyalty of many poor Venezuelans. More than 16 million people were eligible to take part in the poll which international observers say was free and fair. Chavez came to power in 1999 vowing to end corrupt elites and is popular for spending on health clinics, schools and food hand-outs. Critics accuse him of being a “dictator” and warn that he will dissipate reserves to maintain his social programmes despite falling revenue and a weak currency. Chavez now faces the daunting task of tackling the global economic downturn in a country heavily dependent on oil exports.