Page last updated at 23:33 GMT, Sunday, 15 February 2009

Venezuela awaiting poll outcome

Hugo Chavez
Mr Chavez was first elected president in 1998

Polls have closed in Venezuela in a referendum on removing limits on how often politicians, including President Hugo Chavez, can run for office.

The outcome is expected to be close and Mr Chavez has said he will respect the result either way.

Mr Chavez has said he needs to stay in office beyond the end of his second term in 2012 so he can secure what he calls Venezuela's socialist revolution.

Critics say the that would concentrate too much power in the presidency.

Polls officially closed at 1811 (2241 GMT), but people still in line at that time were allowed to cast their vote.

More than 16 million Venezuelans were eligible to vote. Results are expected later on Sunday.

Tight security

The BBC's Will Grant reports that Mr Chavez was confident as he voted in an area of the capital, Caracas, where he can rely on almost complete support.

"My political destiny will be decided today," said the president, a former paratrooper, after casting his vote.

"This is important for me as a human being and as a soldier in this fight," he said.

"We'll recognize the result, whatever it is, once it is announced by the National Electoral Council."

My political destiny will be decided today
Hugo Chavez
Venezuelan president

Our correspondent says there is also significant opposition to the constitutional change, and many in the "no" camp believe they have done enough to overturn the proposal.

Security across the country has been tight, with thousands of troops on duty to ensure the voting passed off peacefully.

Dozens of election observers from international bodies such as the UN and the Organisation of American States were also on hand to verify that the referendum was free and fair.

Under the present constitution, the president is limited to two six-year terms in office, which means that Hugo Chavez would have to leave the presidency in 2012.

But he says he wants to remain in office until 2021, as long as he can keep winning elections.

Venezuelans divided

A proposal to end presidential term limits was one of a package of 69 constitutional changes narrowly rejected in a 2007 referendum.

The issue of indefinite re-election has divided Venezuelans like almost no other, our correspondent says.

For a second time in little over a year the question is being decided at the ballot box.

The latest referendum, if passed, would remove the limit on the number of times local governors and state politicians, as well as the president, can stand for office.

Some analysts say this change could make the difference for Mr Chavez, as many local governors are said to back the measure this time around.

But the opposition is adamant that the proposal has been rejected once and should not be back under discussion, our correspondent says.

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