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Chavez allies win in Venezuela, narrower majority will squeeze government

Democratic Unity party celebrates winning seats that may block Chávez's proposed reforms.

Hugo Chávez retained a majority in Venezuela's National Assembly following Sunday's legislative elections. The National Electoral Council has reported that the opposition party secured at least one-third of the seats, which will give them the ability to resist legislation deemed critical by Chávez and block top federal appointments.

The National Assembly had been controlled by Mr. Chávez's allies since 2005, when the opposition boycotted legislative elections in what has since been seen as a tactical mistake.

The Chávez government has been losing popularity following a consistent rise in homicides which is blighting urban centres and the lacklustre performance of the country's economy, which remains mired in recession despite oil investment.

Sunday's results showed that Chávez's opponents can appeal to large blocs of the electorate. The opposition secured around half of the popular vote, which would have been reflected in the results, had recent gerrymandering by the Chávez legislature not staunched the President's reducing support. The result may begin a reappraisal within Venezuela's political system about how votes are weighted across the country and the need for electoral reform.

Observers say the stage is now set for a promising challenge by the opposition for the presidency in 2012, when the president's current six-year term ends, an assertion about which Chávez's powerful political and propaganda machine will have much to say.