Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his supporters yesterday celebrated victory after Venezuelans voted to scrap term limits on elected posts, paving the way for him to seek re-election in 2012 and beyond.
Chavez, a flamboyant and tireless campaigner, said he intended to stand for a third term in 2012.
“The doors of the future are wide open,” Chavez boomed from the balcony of his Miraflores palace to cheering supporters as fireworks lit up the sky.
“In 2012 there will be presidential elections for the 2013-2019 period and, unless God has planned something else, unless the people have planned something else, this soldier is now a pre-candidate for the Republic’s presidency,” the former paratrooper said.
The leftist leader — popular with the country’s poor for his oil-funded health care and education programs, and blamed by a vocal opposition for rising crime, corruption and inflation — recently celebrated 10 years in power.
Chavez won a larger victory on Sunday than polls had predicted, with 54.36 percent of preliminary results compared with 45.63 percent for the opposition, according to the National Electoral Council.
More than 11 million people out of some 17 million eligible voters took part, council president Tibisay Lucena said.
Officials congratulated Venezuelans for voting calmly, while the opposition criticized Chavez’s massive state-sponsored campaign.
“This was the campaign with most abuses of public resources that we have ever seen,” said Carlos Vecchio, a member of an opposition grouping.
“We surpassed 5 million votes,” another opposition leader, Omar Barboza, said proudly.
Critics charge that Chavez has too much power, with influence over the courts, lawmakers and the election council.
From Buenos Aires to Havana and beyond, many watched the vote on the future of the fierce anti-liberal US foe and Latin American leftist champion.
Chavez said he received his first congratulations from his mentor, former Cuban president Fidel Castro.
“This victory is also yours, Fidel, of the Cuban people and of the people of Latin America,” Chavez said.
The victory strengthens Chavez’s mandate and could prompt him to expand his socialist drive, which has included nationalizations and greater state control over the economy in recent years.
But it also comes amid warnings that his social programs could be hard hit by tumbling oil prices.
“I think that the greatest challenge the government now faces is governing in the face of crisis and not falling into triumphalism,” said Venezuelan analyst Miguel Tinker Salas of Pomona College, California.
Venezuelans voted on an amendment to five articles of the Constitution that would grant the president, mayors, local councilors, lawmakers and governors unlimited bids for re-election. The president was previously allowed two consecutive terms, which would have forced Chavez to step down at the end of his second mandate in 2013.