Polls say Chavez leads vote to scrap term limits

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CARACAS, Sep 22 (Reuters) President Hugo Chavez should easily win approval to scrap term limits in Venezuela in a referendum to change the constitution despite Venezuelans' strong reservations about his proposal, two government-linked polls showed.

The leftist anti-US leader of one of the world's biggest oil exporters has included dropping presidential term limits in a reform package, sweetening what for many is a bitter pill with populist measures, such as reducing the work day.

The new survey results reflected the general analysis of Venezuelan pollsters that Chavez likely will win the December vote due to his high popularity among the OPEC nation's majority poor as he seeks to govern for decades.

Forty-one percent of respondents said they would vote for Chavez's proposal compared with 23 per cent against, according to an IVAD poll. In a Veneopsa survey, 47 per cent said they would vote ''yes'' and 27 per cent ''no.'' The polls each surveyed between 1,200 and 1,500 people at the end of August and had margins of error of 3 per centage points or less.

The two pollsters say they are independent. Their surveys were contracted by a group of Chavez supporters and given to Reuters by a government official this week.

The polls showed a much wider lead for Chavez than an opposition-linked survey published earlier this month by Hinterlaces.

Despite the overall positive results for Chavez, 41 per cent of voters were actually against the reform in the VENEOPSA poll and 35 per cent in the IVAD survey.

More people were against the specific measure of scrapping term limits than for it in the IVAD poll.

Although few pollsters have published survey results, they generally agree the referendum will pass. It will be a straight ''yes'' or ''no'' on the overall package and will reflect support for a president who has used Venezuela's oil wealth to finance programs for the poor, they say.

Chavez's reforms proposal also eliminates central bank autonomy, strengthens state expropriation powers and contains language that could curb the authority of elected regional officials.

US officials and opposition leaders fear Chavez will use the power he has amassed in Congress, the military, judiciary and state oil company to cling to office even if his popularity falls.

Chavez, who led a botched coup in 1992 before winning power in an election six years later, says he needs more time to entrench his self-styled socialist revolution that has seen a wave of nationalizations this year.

Last year, Chavez won re-election with 63 per cent of the vote.

Without a constitutional change, he would have to leave office in 2013.

REUTERS AK PM0450

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