[JURIST] Venezuelans went to the polls on Sunday to vote on a controversial set of constitutional reforms [JURIST news archive] proposed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez [BBC profile]. The two-part referendum will determine the fate of 69 proposed constitutional amendments [JURIST report] that would extend the presidential term from six to seven years, eliminate the limit on the number of terms a president may serve, bring the currently independent Central Bank under the control of the government, and give the government greater authority to expropriate private property without court approval. Election officials have yet to tabulate the results, but Juan Salas Franco, a Spanish official serving as an international election observer, reported [Miami Herald report] a low turnout everywhere, with fewer people than expected voting in Chávez strongholds and anti-Chávez neighborhoods alike.
Chávez has touted the constitutional changes as necessary to advance Venezuela's socialist revolution. Human Rights Watch has warned that the reforms would violate international law [press release] by allowing the president to suspend due process guarantees during times of emergency, and UN experts have flagged concerns over the independence of the judiciary under the proposed amendments. Opposition politicians have accused Chavez [JURIST report] of using the constitutional reforms to consolidate his power. Although the Venezuelan National Assembly approved [JURIST report] the reforms by a 160-7 vote earlier this month, several prominent figures, including former Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Baduel, have spoken out against the reforms [JURIST report]. Bloomberg has more. From Caracas, El Universal has local coverage.