Venezuelans voted in a tightly contested Sunday referendum on whether to expand President Hugo Chavez's power and allow the leftist leader to stay in office for as long as he keeps winning elections.
The anti-Washington firebrand, who has easily won one election after another against a fragmented opposition, is in the hardest campaign of his life as he moves to deepen his self-styled revolution by reforming the constitution.
He predicts he will win by 10 percentage points but most polls show a neck-and-neck race between backers of the referendum, which Chavez says will usher in "21st century socialism," and those who call it an assault on democracy.
Voters were awakened by a predawn state-ordered bugle call mixed with sirens and fake cannon fire to prompt them to head out to their polling stations.
"I've always voted with Chavez but this time no," said Luis Salvador Duran, a Caracas taxi driver. "He has already been in office for nine years. We do not need a life-long president like (Cuba's) Fidel Castro."
With campaigning marred by violence, many Venezuelans fear political turbulence in the OPEC member nation if the losing side refuses to accept the results of Sunday's vote. But early voting appeared to be orderly and under sunny skies.
"We will accept the results whatever they are," Chavez told reporters, holding his newborn grandson, after voting.
"Venezuelans have never voted so often as during these nine years of peaceful and democratic revolution," Chavez said.
Faced with concerns from even moderate supporters that the reforms will give Chavez too much power, he has tried to portray the vote as a plebiscite on his rule.