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Chavez resumes quest for indefinite reelection



CARACAS, Jan 14, 2008

President Hugo Chavez said he was resuming his quest for the removal of presidential term limits that was thwarted last month when he lost a referendum on constitutional reform that would have lifted the two-term limit on his office.

"You know the people have the possibility of launching a political referendum activity. It's up to you. I already played and lost," Chavez said Saturday in an inaugural speech for his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Chavez aims at getting 15 percent of voters to petition for a new referendum on constitutional reform, as allowed for in the country's constitution.

Chavez, 53, who was elected in 1998 and reelected in 2000 and 2006 -- after a new constitution drawn up in 1999 renamed the country and allowed for a two-term presidency, said that, in any case, he would remain in office until February 2013.

Criticized for steering Venezuela toward a Cuba-style dictatorship, Chavez said a referendum call for a constitutional amendment allowing indefinite reelection could spring from either the people themselves or the National Assembly, "which can also take the initiative."

After the December 2 referendum was rejected by 50.7 percent of the vote, Chavez vowed not to push for constitutional reform through the back door of the legislature.

However, on Friday he suggested to lawmakers convening a "confidence vote" referendum on his current mandate -- putting his office on the line -- but linked to a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would allow him indefinite reelection.

"Since I have the power to call a referendum, if the opposition doesn't do it, I will," Chavez said, apparently breaking his vow.

The referendum he would propose, he added, would pose "two questions: 'Do you agree that Hugo Chavez should continue as president?' and concurrently 'Do you agree to a small constitutional amendment to allow indefinite reelection?'"

The plebiscite would have voters choose both or neither of the two questions.
Chavez would effectively put his office on the line, but he is counting that his popularity will lead Venezuelans to accept indefinite presidential reelection than see him step down.

The December referendum defeat was stinging for the firebrand South American leader because it represented the first time he had failed at the ballot box. In nearly nine years ruling Venezuela, Chavez had always emerged from polls with convincing victories.

Chavez had told Venezuelans the constitutional reforms he proposed would see through his vision of making Venezuela a socialist economy, free from US "imperialism."

He wanted to use it to take over the central bank, gag the media in emergencies and expropriate property in the name of his socialist vision.

He also wanted to vie for re-election and stay in power "until 2050," when he would be 95.

Story from AFP
AFP 13 0812 GMT 01 08

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