Chavez Threatens Opposition with Referendum on Third Term in Office

During his weekly Sunday television show, President Chavez said that if the opposition boycotts the December presidential elections, he might propose a referendum that would amend the constitution and allow him to run a third time as president.

Caracas, Venezuela, February 20, 2006 – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned the Venezuelan opposition if they did not put forward any candidates to contest the December presidential elections, he might have a referendum to ask if Venezuelans want him to serve a third term. Chavez said, “It’s not a firm decision, it’s something I’m thinking about.”

Speaking Sunday on his weekly TV show Aló Presidente, Chavez said, “I might sign a decree calling for a popular referendum – Do you agree that Chavez should run for a third term in 2013?”

Chavez said this would be done, “In case the opposition want to do something dirty like withdrawing [from the Presidential election].” If they did, this would, “strengthen this idea that I have come up with,” said the Venezuelan President.

Several of the main opposition parties dropped out of the elections for the Venezuelan National Assembly last December. This was after little to no campaigning and low support in opinion polls. According to opposition leaders, the boycott was because of bias in the Venezuelan Electoral Commission.

Last December, Chavez said the opposition parties had dropped out of the elections because the US government told them to. On Sunday the Venezuelan President said he feared the US would use the same strategy with the Presidential elections this December.

Chavez said, “The North American Empire tries to make these dirty tricks, as they don’t have an opposition candidate to contest the elections, so they try in this manner to indirectly overthrow me.”

Under the current constitution Chavez can only be President until 2013 and cannot run again because by then he would have served two full terms. A Constitutional amendment changing this could happen if a majority of Venezuelans voted for it in a referendum.

The Second Vice president of the National Assembly, Roberto Hernández, said if nobody stands against Chavez in December’s Presidential elections the President will have the right to hold a referendum to serve another 6 years.

The limits for Presidential reelection were changed in 1999 as part of Venezuela’s new popular constitution. The Presidential term was extended from 5 to 6 years and one immediate reelection was allowed.

Chavez argued that this was necessary as the job of rebuilding Venezuela was so big that it could not be done in 5 years. At other times Chavez has said that this project will not be finished until 2021. Chavez has also said he will retire from politics in 2021. This has led many to conclude that Chavez wants to be President until 2021. Chavez has denied this, though.

The opposition responded to Chavez’s threat that Chavez was merely trying tom distract from the country’s real problems by raising this issue. Eduardo Fernandez, the president of one of Venezuela’s former governing parties, the Christian-democratic Copei, said, “This is a distraction maneuver, a red cloth.” Others, such as the leader of the former governing social-democratic party AD, argued that Chavez was preparing the population for an amendment that would allow automatic re-election if a candidate runs unopposed.

A leader of Chavez’s own MVR party, Willian Lara, said that Chavez’s proposal was, “still not a decision. It is a call to the democratic Venezuelan opposition to play cleanly…”

Venezuela’s opposition is currently divided between parties that support running a candidate for the December 2006 presidential elections and parties that say they would only run if there is a new National Electoral Council.