Chavez seeks re-election chance in Venezuela vote


Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez seeks voters' support today for a reform that would let him stay in power for as long as he keeps winning elections.

Mr Chavez, who took office 10 years ago and wants to stay on at least another decade, holds a slim lead in polls but many Venezuelans remain undecided, meaning the vote will hinge on which camp better activates its get-out-the-vote machinery.

If he loses in what is his second attempt to scrap term limits with a referendum, Mr Chavez would have to leave office in 2013 or find another way to change the rules so he can stand again.

Spearheaded by a popular but inexperienced student movement, the fragmented opposition's campaign slogan is "No is No," referring to Mr Chavez's failed effort in 2007 to rewrite the constitution so he could extend his rule in the OPEC nation.

Confident of victory this time, Mr Chavez said yesterday a win would reinforce his mandate to create a socialist state and challenge US influence in Latin America.

"This will strengthen my faith in what we are doing," the 54-year-old president said.

But win or lose, he faces a tough year.

With oil prices more than $100 (€77) a barrel lower than their peak seven months ago, Mr Chavez has far less income to spend on his programs of clinics, schools and food hand-outs for the poor Venezuelans who have consistently backed him.

Venezuela's currency and sovereign debt have lost value in recent months as investors worry his Cuba-inspired socialist "revolution" will burn through international reserves.