A referendum before Venezuelan voters Sunday asked them to decide on 69 changes to the constitution proposed by President Hugo Chavez and his congressional allies. The revisions, split into two separate ballot issues to be decided by "yes" or "no" vote, include the following key changes:
BALLOT ISSUE A:
— Presidential terms are lengthened from six to seven years. Terms limits are eliminated, allowing the president to run for re-election indefinitely.
— The president is granted control over the Central Bank, which previously had autonomy. The president is also granted authority to set monetary policy and administer international reserves.
— The official workday is reduced from eight to six hours.
— The minimum voting age is reduced from 18 to 16.
— Creation of a fund to pay social security benefits for the first time to workers in the informal economy, such as maids and street vendors, who make up an estimated 45 percent of the labor force.
— Large land estates, or latifundia, are prohibited. A government agrarian reform has already turned over more than 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of arable land to poor farmers on the grounds that it was underused or that owners lacked adequate titles.
— The state may provisionally occupy property slated for expropriation before a court has ruled.
— Financing of "associations with political aims" is to be regulated by law and foreign funding prohibited for such groups. Critics warn this could be used to strangle human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations.
— Popular participation in government "for the construction of a Socialist Democracy." Chavez calls it a new "geometry of power" aimed at greater self-government through neighborhood-based communal and worker councils.
— A socio-economic system based on "socialist, anti-imperialist principles" and promoting "humanistic values of cooperation and the preponderance of common interests above the individual."
— Creates three new classes of property in addition to private and state property. Social property belongs 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 is common and assigned to a particular group, such as a communal council. Mixed property would exist as combinations of social, collective, state and private property.
— The president, with approval by a majority of the National Assembly, may establish federal territories, municipalities, provinces, cities and other jurisdictions headed by government-appointed leaders. Critics say the president could use these powers to change voting districts and eliminate elected offices held by opponents. Chavez says he would appoint regional vice presidents, which would apparently have more power than state governors, to decentralize and focus on local needs.
BALLOT ISSUE B:
— The president may declare a state of emergency for an unlimited period, as long as "the causes that motivated it remain." During this period various constitutional rights "may be restricted or suspended temporarily," a change that critics warn would let the government detain citizens without charges and censor the news media. Certain rights are maintained at all times, including the right to legal defense.
— Raises the percentage of the electorate needed to petition for referendums. For a recall referendum on the president or another elected official, signatures are needed from 30 percent of voters instead of the current 20 percent.
— University students, faculty and workers are granted equal power to choose administrators at public universities by direct vote. Currently faculty votes are weighted and non-teaching employees do not have a vote. Chavez's supporters say the change will bring more democracy to campuses that have been bastions of anti-Chavez sentiment.