Approximately seven million people failed to take part in a referendum Sunday on the substantial changes to the Constitution advanced by President Hugo Chávez
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- Venezuelans abroad vote in referendum
- Chávez says that any results should be accepted
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- Opposition rejects early publication of electoral results in foreign media
- Former Defense Minister calls for government-opposition meeting
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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Sunday lost his first two elections ever since he was elected in December 1998. His intended changes to the Constitution were put to vote in two blocks. Block A -including his proposal of indefinite presidential reelection- was rebutted by 50.7 percent of voters.
Block B -which encompassed proposals such as reducing the legal age to vote from 18 years to 16 years and the suppression of both due process and the right to information under states of emergency- was rejected by 51.05 percent of Venezuelans.
This was one of the few times in Venezuelan electoral history that abstention played such a major role in results. Block A of the proposed reform was rejected with a lead of only 124,962 votes. Block B was rebutted with a lead of 187,196 votes.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) Monday is expected to disclose the results in all of the country's states and municipalities.
Abstention at 40 percent
Turnout in Sunday referendum was 9,002,439 voters, which represents a 44.1 percent abstention. Four out of every 10 Venezuelans refrained from voicing their view about the reform-
Abstention has been a steady trend in Venezuela since 1993. This time, 7,104,362 Venezuelans failed to take part in a vote to decide on substantial constitutional changes.
Even the current Constitution was approved in a vote marked by a high abstention rate.
The National Constituent Assembly that drafted the 1999 Constitution was elected with an abstention rate of 62 percent. The referendum to approve such Constitution was marked by an abstention rate of 55.5 percent.
A war of exit polls
Once again, exit polls played the starring role. When 85 percent of the balloting centers were still open, Chávez's government published the first exit poll, showing that the proposed reform had 11-percentage point lead.
This trend went up to 16 points halfway the polling day. However, the gap between the No bloc and the Yes bloc started to close when student, community, and political leaders, as well as the news media, urged people to vote.
Around 3 pm, one hour before the closure of the polling centers, the lead of the No bloc above the Yes bloc was only 3 points. From that moment on, rumors prevailed in the headquarters of the CNE.
The CNE directors kept silent for five hours, while the votes were counted. This exacerbated speculations. But rumors ended when CNE chair Tibisay Lucena announced that the lead of the No bloc was "irreversible" even with 3 percent of the ballots still to be counted.
Translated by Maryflor Suárez R.
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