CARACAS, Jan 15 – The Venezuelan National Assembly overwhelmingly approved President Hugo Chavez’s proposed constitutional amendment to allow for unlimited re-election of the president and all other elected officials.,
The amendment will now be submitted to a referendum, possibly February 15, when it could conceivably founder as a similar measure did in late 2007.
Chavez, who first sought unlimited re-election only for the president but recently asked it be extended to all elected officials in the country, has already said he plans run in the 2012 presidential election if he is allowed.
Chavez, first elected president in 1998, was re-elected in 2006 for a term that ends in February 2013. Venezuela’s constitution was changed in late 1999, allowing Chavez to run for an additional re-election.
Stacked with Chavez followers, the National Assembly passed the amendment by a show of hands, with only seven opposition members voting against it.
The measure, which is to be submitted to referendum within 30 days after its approval, will now go before the National Election Board, which on Friday is expected to announce a date for the plebiscite.
Meanwhile, Chavez has manned an all-out campaign to convince Venezuelans his brand of socialism is what the country needs and can only be carried out fully if he remains in power.
"No law can be written in stone," ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) Deputy Carlos Escarra told his colleagues during the debate preceding the vote.
He said the proposed amendment is based on "the theory of good government that calls for giving the greatest social happiness to a group of citizens."
Mario Isea, another PSUV deputy, said: "Before us we have an amendment aimed at eliminating current (term) limits, so that all legally able citizens can run for election and the people can choose from them without limitations of any kind."
Podemos Party member Juan Jose Molina, one of the few dissenting lawmakers, warned that the measure was unconstitutional and was a product of Chavez’ whim to stay in office all his life.
"You cannot manipulate things by invoking the law and democratic values, believing that people are stupid and unaware that the idea behind it is to concentrate power in one man and dissolve the (government) institutions," he told his colleagues.
Wednesday’s vote was the second on the no-term-limits measure, after it was approved on its initial reading on December 18.
A few students demonstrated in Caracas against the measure and were dispersed by police with tear gas.
Last month, Chavez denied he was seeking a permanent foothold in power through the constitutional amendment.
"They say my personal goal is to perpetuate myself in power; nothing could be further from the truth," Chavez told a group of military garrison chiefs on December 28.
"What we have here is a national independence project that still needs more work to consolidate. It’s not consolidated yet," he said of his "Bolivarian" socialist revolution that has so far nationalized several key industries, including energy, telecommunications, oil and steel concerns.
Opposition parties have set up a pressure group to reject the no-term-limits measure, calling their movement "Angostura," after a speech by Venezuelan founding father Simon Bolivar warning of the dangers of unlimited political power.
How the amendment will fare in the next referendum remains an open question.