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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 01:10 GMT 02:10 UK

World: Americas

Venezuela backs political overhaul

Voters came out in favour of the proposed assembly

By Peter Greste in Caracas

Venezuela has voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution.

The results of Sunday's referendum are nothing short of an outright victory for President Hugo Chavez.

[ image: Mr Chavez lead a failed coup in 1992]
Mr Chavez lead a failed coup in 1992
Within an hour of polls closing, the electronic voting system had registered a landslide in favour of his plans to tear up the old constitution and rebuild the nation virtually from scratch.

Ninety-two percent of those who turned out voted in favour of the new constitution, and 85% said they were happy with President Chavez's plans to establish a new constituent assembly to draft the document.

The BBC's Joanne Episcopo profiles the controversial President Chavez
Analysts say a strong 'yes' vote was never really in doubt; the president's most loyal support comes from the vast majority of Venezuelans who live below the poverty line and who believe they will now benefit from a change to the old system that deprived them of access to this country's extraordinary oil wealth.

The only question in most observers' minds was whether enough people would bother to participate to give Hugo Chavez the moral authority to carry out his plan.

[ image: Most people live below the poverty line]
Most people live below the poverty line
The opposition declared that anything less than a 51% turnout would make the result illegitimate. The final figure was 39%.

Analysts say the result allows the opposition to claim the majority of Venezuelans chose not to support Hugo Chavez.

But the Congressional President, Luis Alfonso Davila, a government politician, said many people didn't bother to vote because the result was a foregone conclusion.

The fear of many observers now is that with such an overwhelming 'yes' vote, Hugo Chavez may well give in to what a lot of people believe is a natural inclination to rule as an autocrat.

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