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Venezuelan Legislature Votes to Hold Referendum on Term Limits

January 15, 2009 (— Venezuela’s legislature, the National Assembly, passed the resolution yesterday that would allow for a national referendum to proceed on whether to eliminate all limits on the number of times elected officials may hold the same office. Meanwhile, opposition students launched protests against the referendum.

The referendum would ask Venezuelans whether they are in favor of amending five articles of Venezuela’s constitution, so that mayors, governors, state legislators, national legislators, and the president may be reelected more than one time.

The exact text of the referendum would be as follows: “Do you approve of amending articles 60, 162, 174, 192, and 230 of the Constitution of the Republic, as proposed by the National Assembly, which would expand the political rights of the people with the aim of allowing any citizen who holds a publicly elected office to be nominated as a candidate for the same office, for the constitutionally established term, exclusively depending on their election via popular vote?”

Currently all popularly elected offices have a limit of two terms, that is, of allowing only one reelection to the same office. President Chávez originally proposed eliminating the two-term limit only on the presidential office last year, but later suggested that the two-term limit should be eliminated from all elected offices.

The vote passed 156-6, with only members of the social democratic party Podemos voting against the referendum proposal, and five abstentions.

While the opposition is charging that Chávez wants to become president for life with the passage of this constitutional amendment, Chávez himself denies this, saying that he only wants the change because the political project he leads, to create “21st century socialism,” cannot be completed by early 2013, when his current term is scheduled to end.

“What we have here is a national independence project that still needs more work to consolidate. It's not consolidated yet,” said Chávez last month.

According to the provisions for amending the constitution, as set forth in its article 341, the National Electoral Council (CNE) now has 30 days to organize the referendum. It is thus expected that the referendum will take place February 15th.

Even though the official date for the referendum has not yet been announced, the CNE did specify that campaigning for and against it may begin this coming Saturday and would last until February 13.

Opposition Students Protest

While the National Assembly debated the constitutional amendment, opposition supporting students took to the streets to protest against the amendment. Hundreds of students protested at different universities.

One group, though, tried to block one of the main freeways in Caracas and was subsequently dispersed by police with tear gas and a water cannon.

One of the students’ complaints about the referendum is that the CNE has ruled that it will not allow modifications to the voter registry because, according to Venezuelan law the registry may not be modified 90 days prior to a vote. The students argue, though, that many new voters who turned 18 since the regional elections last November would be disenfranchised.

In another incident, some students were videotaped on Wednesday setting fire to the national park forest north of Caracas, which is very susceptible to forest fires during the dry season, which has just begun.

President Chávez mentioned the incident in a speech to supporters yesterday, saying that such acts of vandalism are part of a larger opposition plan to once again sow chaos in Venezuela.

“We know what this is about: it is the chaos plan, the Pact of Puerto Rico,” said Chávez, referring to a recent meeting opposition leaders are said to have had in Puerto Rico with advisers from the Bush administration.

“We will not underestimate this. There are people here who underestimated the plans that brought about the coup d’état of April 11 [2002]. The enemies of the homeland have no scruples; they do not respect anything or anyone,” added Chávez.

Published on Jan 16th 2009 at 11.35am