Venezuela votes 'no' to constitutional reforms

CARACAS — President Hugo Chávez suffered a stunning defeat Sunday in a crucial vote in which he was seeking to deepen his vision of ''21st century socialism'' in Venezuela and fortify his role as Latin America's most powerful leftist leader in the post-Castro era.

The final outcome -- 50.7 percent voted ''no'' and 49.3 percent ''yes'' -- was a surprise because Chávez had defeated his political foes five times in a row dating to his 1998 election as president, and also because he seemed to be on the verge of claiming victory and exit polls released early Sunday night indicated that he would win.

Sunday night's result seems to indicate that Chávez overreached in seeking the right to run for reelection indefinitely and buttress his political affinity with Cuba, even as he remained personally popular with voters.

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