A referendum is being held in Venezuela today to decide on a constitutional amendments that would give President Hugo Chávez more power. One of the changes would make it possible for the president to be re-elected for an unlimited number of terms.
In a speech, Mr Chávez has already said that he would be willing to stay on as president until 2050 as long as he has the support of the electorate. The latest polls indicate that the country is divided on the issue, with almost equal numbers for and against. The president has put forward a total of 39 changes to the constitution. In addition to changing the rules on re-election, he is also proposing lowering the voting age to 16 and putting an end to the autonomy of Venezuela's Central Bank. The following are some basic facts about the referendum. Over 16.1 million registered voters will go to 11,132 polling stations in the referendum. A total of 10,213 biometrics identification machines have been positioned together with indelible inking to prevent the possibility of double vote. Observers from about 40 countries will be able to travel throughout the country to monitor the electoral process. More than 150,000 trained people from the Armed Forces and the national reserve forces together with some 300,000 troops from other army units will join in the efforts to guarantee the security in the voting process. Some of the changes to the constitution to be put on the vote are: -- To reduce the official workday from eight hours to six hours. -- To change the minimum age for eligible voters from 18 to 16. -- To establish a fund to pay social security benefits for workers in the informal economy who make up about 45 percent of the country's total labor force. -- To raise the percentage of the electorate needed to petition for referendums. -- To lengthen the presidential terms from six years to seven years and eliminate terms limits. -- To call for popular participation in government "for the construction of a Socialist Democracy." -- To add three new classes of property to the current private and state property. They are social property, belonging to the people as a whole and may either be held on their behalf by the state or assigned to people of a determined area by the state; collective property, which is assigned to a particular group; and mixed property, which would exist as combinations of social, collective, state and private property. -- To give the president the power, with the approval by the majority of the parliament, to establish federal territories, municipalities, provinces and cities. -- To prohibit foreign funding of associations with political aims. There are also proposals to expand presidential powers during natural disasters or political "emergencies".