Chavez defeated over reforms

Chavez defeated over reforms

CARACAS – Humbled by his first electoral defeat, President Hugo Chavez said yesterday he may have been too ambitious in asking voters to let him stand indefinitely for re-election and endorse a huge leap to a socialist state.

“I understand and accept that the proposal I made was quite profound and intense,” he said after voters narrowly rejected the sweeping constitutional reform by 51 per cent to 49 per cent. Opposition activists were ecstatic as the results were announced shortly after midnight – with 88 per cent of the vote counted, the trend was declared irreversible by elections council chief Tibisay Lucena.Some shed tears.Others began chanting: “And now he’s going away!” Foes of the reform effort – including Roman Catholic leaders, press freedom groups, human rights groups and prominent business leaders – said it would have granted Chavez unchecked power and imperilled basic rights.Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace that the outcome of Sunday’s balloting had taught him that “Venezuelan democracy is maturing.”His respect for the verdict, he asserted, proves he is a true democrat.”From this moment on, let’s be calm,” he proposed, asking for no more street violence like the clashes that marred pre-vote protests.”There is no dictatorship here.”Chavez, who was briefly ousted in a failed 2002 coup, blamed the loss on low turnout among the very supporters who re-elected him a year ago with 63 per cent of the vote.Seven in ten eligible voters cast ballots then.This time it was just 56 per cent.The defeated reform package would have created new types of communal property, let Chavez handpick local leaders under a redrawn political map and suspend civil liberties during extended states of emergency.Without the overhaul, Chavez will be barred from running again in 2012.Other changes would have shortened the workday from eight hours to six, created a social security fund for millions of informal labourers and promoted communal councils where residents decide how to spend government funds.Chavez’s assuaging words – ‘don’t be sad’, he told supporters – didn’t stop Nelly Hernandez, a 37-year-old street vendor, from crying as she wandered outside the presidential palace early yesterday amid broken beer bottles as government workers took apart a stage mounted earlier for a victory fete.”It’s difficult to accept this, but Chavez has not abandoned us, he’ll still be there for us,” she said between sobs.Chavez urged calm and restraint after his Sunday setback.Nampa-APOpposition activists were ecstatic as the results were announced shortly after midnight – with 88 per cent of the vote counted, the trend was declared irreversible by elections council chief Tibisay Lucena.Some shed tears.Others began chanting: “And now he’s going away!” Foes of the reform effort – including Roman Catholic leaders, press freedom groups, human rights groups and prominent business leaders – said it would have granted Chavez unchecked power and imperilled basic rights.Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace that the outcome of Sunday’s balloting had taught him that “Venezuelan democracy is maturing.”His respect for the verdict, he asserted, proves he is a true democrat.”From this moment on, let’s be calm,” he proposed, asking for no more street violence like the clashes that marred pre-vote protests.”There is no dictatorship here.”Chavez, who was briefly ousted in a failed 2002 coup, blamed the loss on low turnout among the very supporters who re-elected him a year ago with 63 per cent of the vote.Seven in ten eligible voters cast ballots then.This time it was just 56 per cent.The defeated reform package would have created new types of communal property, let Chavez handpick local leaders under a redrawn political map and suspend civil liberties during extended states of emergency.Without the overhaul, Chavez will be barred from running again in 2012.Other changes would have shortened the workday from eight hours to six, created a social security fund for millions of informal labourers and promoted communal councils where residents decide how to spend government funds.Chavez’s assuaging words – ‘don’t be sad’, he told supporters – didn’t stop Nelly Hernandez, a 37-year-old street vendor, from crying as she wandered outside the presidential palace early yesterday amid broken beer bottles as government workers took apart a stage mounted earlier for a victory fete.”It’s difficult to accept this, but Chavez has not abandoned us, he’ll still be there for us,” she said between sobs.Chavez urged calm and restraint after his Sunday setback.Nampa-AP

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