[JURIST] The Venezuelan National Assembly [official website, in Spanish] on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a measure authorizing a national referendum on a constitutional amendment that would abolish presidential term limits [press release, in Spanish]. The amendment would allow Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to seek re-election in 2012. Also on Thursday, a petition signed by almost five million people [Bloomberg report] endorsing the amendment was given to the National Assembly, while thousands of members of Chavez's United Socialist Party gathered in Caracas to show support. The referendum is ultimately expected to be approved when it is debated again in parliament next month. The opposition has said the referendum is unlawful [AP report] since term limits were voted down [JURIST report] last year.
In 2007 Venezuelans rejected the constitutional reforms [JURIST news archive] proposed by Chavez by a narrow margin of 51 to 49 percent. At that time Chavez, accepting his first electoral defeat, acknowledged that his proposed reforms, which would have allowed him to stand indefinitely for re-election, handpick local leaders under a new political map, create new types of communal property, and to suspend civil liberties during states of emergency, were "quite profound and intense," and noted that he may have been too ambitious in his proposals. Chavez touted the constitutional changes as necessary to advance Venezuela's socialist revolution. Opposition politicians accused Chavez [JURIST report] of using the constitutional reforms to consolidate his power.