Feb 15 Venezuelans voted on Sunday in a
referendum on scrapping term limits and allowing socialist
President Hugo Chavez to stay in power for as long as he keeps
The self-styled revolutionary this month celebrated a
decade at the helm and says he needs another 10 years to
continue his anti-poverty campaigns. Opposition leaders call
him a fledgling tyrant who wants to stay in office for life.
Polls show Chavez, who should leave office in 2013 if he
loses, with a slim lead.
The following are scenarios for Sunday's vote:
A victory in the referendum would strengthen Chavez's
mandate and give him greater confidence to expand his drive
toward Cuban-inspired socialism that has included
nationalizations and increased state control over the economy.
He is likely to interpret a clear victory as a license to
push forward with policies such as strengthening state-backed
community councils that could supplant opposition politicians
and advancing land redistribution reforms.
Winning the vote would give him leeway to take unpopular
economic measures such as spending cuts or new taxes. The OPEC
nation faces declining oil income and slower growth amid the
global financial crisis.
It may also bolster him to be more combative as the economy
worsens, meaning the government could be given a freer hand to
take over businesses that become too insolvent to pay their
workers or refuse to abide by government price controls. Chavez
launched a wave of aggressive nationalizations after his last
election vote victory in 2006.
A loss on Sunday would embolden opponents with a second
clear victory against Chavez after shooting down a 2007
constitutional reform package that included the current
Opposition leaders, who also gained ground in local
elections last year, could request a recall referendum against
him in 2010.
A weakened Chavez could respond by hunkering down to
weather the economic crisis and slow his reforms as he did in
early 2008 after his constitutional overhaul was rejected.
However, a defeat could also make Chavez more combative. He
frequently relies on confrontation and divisive rhetoric to
rally supporters in the face of adversity.
He could effectively repeat Sunday's vote by calling yet
another referendum or even call a body, known as a constituent
assembly, to rewrite the constitution in his favor. He has not
ruled out such moves. But defeat would make it more difficult
to control his unwieldy coalition of political allies. Cabinet
members with their own ambitions could prepare to stand in the
2012 presidential vote.
A very close race hinging on only one or two percentage
points could spark a prolonged vote count and opposition
protests, possibly affecting the country's debt prices as
investors fret over uncertainty.
Few opposition leaders will immediately cry fraud as they
did after Chavez beat out a 2004 recall referendum. But they
may accuse him of seeking to rig the results if the count drags
Even a slim Chavez loss would be a major step forward for
opponents as it would further erode the impression among many
voters that the president is unbeatable at the ballot box.
A small win for Chavez, who for years had won elections by
wide margins, would demonstrate electoral weakness and give him
less of a mandate in a tough year.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth, Editing by Saul Hudson and