Venezuelan voters narrowly rejected a constitutional referendum that would have bolstered President Hugo Chavez's embrace of socialism and granted an indefinite extension of his eligibility to serve as president, the National Electoral Council reported early Monday.
About 51 percent of voters opposed the amendments, while approximately 49 percent were in favor of them. "Don't feel sad. Don't feel burdened, Chavez told supporters immediately after the results were announced, and "to those who voted against my proposal, I thank them and congratulate them". More than nine million of Venezuelan's 16 million eligible voters went to the polls Sunday. President of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, said the process "shows the entire world that we are a democratic country." Chavez, in what he called a talk "from my heart" acknowledging the results, thanked those who opposed his proposal, saying the election had proven that Venezuelan democracy is maturing. Thousands of people gathered in the streets, many of them university students who worked to defeat the measure, burst into singing their country's national anthem upon hearing the news. Earlier in Caracas, Chavez -- clad in his trademark red shirt and cradling his grandson -- made the sign of the cross when he voted, then took his paper ballot and placed it in a box. "For me, it's a very happy day," he had said. He dipped his right pinky in ink, collected his paper receipt from the voting machine and then gave an uncharacteristically short talk with the news media. "Let's wait for the results tonight," he told reporters. "We'll accept them, whatever they may be." Chavez called Venezuela's electoral system "one of the most transparent in the world," and said its voting machines are among "the most modern of the world." At stake were 69 amendments proposed by Chavez, who has said he wants to steer Venezuela toward full socialism -- a state his detractors describe as full totalitarianism. The most controversial amendment would do away with term limits, thereby allowing the 53-year-old former paratrooper, who has already served almost eight years in power, to hold it indefinitely as long as he is re-elected. If the amendments were approved, Chavez could have run for president in seven-year terms. At present, the president's term runs six years, and current law would not allow Chavez to run again after his term ends in 2012 The oppositor Leopoldo Lopez, Mayor of Caracas's Chaqua Municipality said " We are all very happy because the results today are not the results of a political party winning over another, it's democracy winning over an authoritarian project. Venezuela won today, democracy won today, and I am sure that this victory for the Venezuelan people will have a very important impact in the rest of Latin America". Also Olivia Goumbri, Government-Founder funded Venezuela information office quotes: "It shows the level of democratic participation in Venezuela, the ability of the Venezuelan people to vote for and against the reforms, to be calm and accept the result. So I think it's a really interesting take on what's going on in Venezuela in the sense that although the majority of the population voted for Chavez last year, they also have the ability to make up their own minds. The fact that we see that an effort he proposed has not gone through, I think really is a testament to the amount of democratic processes that are going on in this country".