[JURIST] The Venezuelan National Assembly [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment [press release and text, in Spanish] eliminating presidential term limits. The amendment must now be approved by voters in a referendum likely to be held on February 15. The amendment, which would allow President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to seek re-election in 2012, was passed by an Assembly made up of a majority of Chavez supporters. The amendment has been called illegal by the political opposition that claims that previous attempts at an amendment have already been rejected by voters in 2007.
Last month, a petition signed by almost five million people [JURIST 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. In 2007, the constitutional reforms proposed by Chavez were rejected by a narrow margin of 51 to 49 percent. Chavez 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.