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Venezuelan Leftist Coalition Wins

July 26, 1999

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ President Hugo Chavez’s leftist coalition won an overwhelming majority of a constitutional assembly in nationwide elections Sunday, giving the former coup leader vast new power to carry out his ``social revolution.″

With 78 percent of the vote counted, Chavez’s Patriotic Pole coalition had 119 of the assembly’s 128 seats up for grabs Sunday, according to official results from the National Electoral Council.

The two biggest vote getters were Chavez’s wife, Marisabel, and his former chief of staff, Alfredo Pena.

Opposition leaders feared Sunday’s vote was a prelude to dictatorship in the world’s third-largest oil exporter because Chavez has pledged to urge the constitutional assembly to abolish Congress and the Supreme Court.

``Today, a new Venezuela is born with greater social security, where human rights are respected and all Venezuelans have the right to housing, education and health,″ Chavez said before casting his vote amid a cheering throng in eastern Caracas.

At 47 percent, turnout was relatively low compared to last December’s presidential election, when people turned out in droves to vote for Chavez. About 11 million of Venezuela’s 23 million people are eligible to vote.

His wife by his side, the president appeared before a cheering crowd at the presidential palace late Sunday, saying, ``Today is a day of greatness.″

Moments before the first results were announced, about 500 Chavez supporters gathered outside the electoral council and chanted, ``Revolution! Revolution!″

Chavez proposed the new constitutional assembly to break the political stranglehold of traditional parties that, he says, have impoverished Venezuela and turned it into one of the world’s most corrupt countries. The body will have six months to write a new constitution.

Chavez also has proposed that the assembly create new institutions to replace the Congress and Supreme Court, which he sees as products of an old, corrupt system.

Critics, however, fear that the president will have a free hand in imposing authoritarian rule.

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