Venezuelans vote on term limits for elected officials

Venezuelans wait to vote on the referendum Sunday at a poll center in Caracas.
Venezuelans were deciding Sunday whether to change the constitution to allow President Hugo Chavez and other elected officials to run for office indefinitely.

The National Assembly approved the referendum last month. Venezuelans narrowly rejected a similar measure in December 2007. Results from this weekend’s balloting are expected from the National Electoral Council on Monday morning. If it passes, Chavez could run for a third consecutive six-year term in 2012. Polls opened at 6 a.m. (5:30 a.m. ET) and were to close at 6 p.m. Chavez called for the referendum in November, a week after candidates he supported won a majority of the seats in local elections. The elections had been seen as a test of his influence. The leader initially proposed that he be able to be re-elected indefinitely, but after he had trouble convincing politicians and citizens, Chavez proposed that the referendum apply to any elected official. Chavez, who spent his career in the military before entering politics, was elected president in 1998 as a leftist reformer and instituted several reforms after taking office.

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He withstood a coup attempt in April 2002, which he accused the United States of fomenting, and a recall referendum in August 2004. In a parliamentary election in late 2005, Chavez supporters gained control of the National Assembly, and a year later he was easily re-elected to another six-year term. According to the El Nacional newspaper, there will be representatives from all political parties at the polling stations. Watch how polling is expected to take place in Venezuela » On Friday, Venezuela expelled a Spanish member of European Parliament after he called Chavez a “dictator” and criticized the Venezuelan president’s handling of the referendum on term limits. An opposition party, staunchly against Chavez, had asked Luis Herrero to observe the voting.

In a statement, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said it had “invited” Herrero, who represents the right-wing Partido Popular (Popular Party) in the European Parliament, to leave the country to preserve a “peaceful climate” before the Sunday referendum. Hundreds of students packed the streets of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, earlier this month to march in opposition to the proposed amendment.