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Amendment to Strike Two-Term Limit on Presidency Advances in Venezuelan Legislature

Carora, December 19, 2008 ( Venezuela’s National Assembly approved yesterday the holding of a referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the two-term limit on the presidency, after a lengthy first debate that lasted into the night.

After 12 hours of discussion, a “clear majority” agreed to have a popular referendum regarding changes to article 230 of the constitution, eliminating a phrase that limits presidents to a single reelection. The discussion was the first of several expected to take place within the legislative body.

A large majority of the assembly is made up of pro-Chavez deputies, after opposition parties refused to participate in the last electoral process for the body in 2005.

Assembly President Celia Flores declared that the amendment is “not an academic problem, nor a legal one, it’s a political issue and the people of Venezuela will decide.”

Earlier in the day, the National Assembly received the signatures of over 4.5 million Venezuelans supportive of the amendment, collected in a span of about a week by President Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

According to the constitution, a popular referendum can be called by the president, the National Assembly, or by citizens with signatures totaling over 15 percent of registered voters, or about 2.5 million. The current proposal is being introduced via the National Assembly, to “put the will of the people into action, in an expedited way for the sake of the country,” said Flores.

Ismael Garcia, the secretary-general of the political social democratic party Podemos which supported President Chavez until late 2007, stated, “The signatures don’t have any real value; it’s a big cover up to say that the people are asking for the new amendment.”

Garcia maintained that the Venezuelan people already rejected the proposal, after a constitutional reform referendum on 69 changed articles of the constitution, which included the elimination of the two-term limit, which was narrowly voted down last year.

“We believe the people’s voice is the voice of god, and the people already spoke and said no!” Garcia exclaimed.

Luis Tascon, a former PSUV member often critical of the government, rejected Garcia and the opposition’s arguments and congratulated the PSUV for the massive collection of signatures.

“Not only the signatures of the middle class have value, the signatures of the poor also count,” Tascon said, referring to a 2004 referendum that attempted to remove Chavez, convoked by an opposition signature drive.

In one of 33 speeches by assembly members during the session, parliament president Celia Flores highlighted the repeated reelections of a number of politicians opposed to the referendum.

According to Flores, Henry Ramos Allup, the current leader of prominent opposition party Democratic Action, served 27 consecutive years in the legislature.

Two members of Podemos, Ismael Garcia and Ricardo Gutierrez, have served 18 years and 22 years respectively in the National Assembly, Flores said.

“And they come here, with a hypocritical double standard, and talk about the importance of changing leaders. Where is your change?” Flores asked the politicians.

Venezuelan President Chavez first became an elected politician after a landslide victory in the 1998 presidential elections.

Once fully approved by the National Assembly in a second vote, expected after further discussions in January, the amendment proposal will be sent to the National Electoral Council to convoke a national popular referendum.

Published on Dec 19th 2008 at 6.01pm