August 15, 2007
(AP) -- President Hugo Cháavez will present his blueprint for constitutional reform Wednesday, proposing sweeping changes expected to allow him to be reelected indefinitely.
Chávez, who is seeking to transform Venezuelan society along socialist lines, unexpectedly announced late Tuesday that he would unveil his project before crowds of supporters at the National Assembly. He predicted it would bring renewed political upheaval to Venezuela.
Chávez's political allies firmly control the National Assembly, which is responsible for reviewing his proposal as well as the Supreme Court. His critics accuse him of becoming obsessed with power and seeking to become a lifelong leader like his close friend Fidel Castro.
Chávez rejects allegations that he poses a threat to democracy.
The Venezuelan leader predicted that most people would support his proposal to reform the constitution, but he also forecast the beginning of a tenacious political battle with the nation's opposition.
''I have faith that we are going to convince the immense majority of Venezuelans of the necessity and the immediate benefits that this is going to bring the country,'' Chávez said during a televised interview.
''Tomorrow our great battle begins,'' Chávez said. ``They are going to launch a campaign tomorrow to try to distort the text and the spirit of the proposal.''
Chávez has revealed few details of his reform proposal but has stressed the need to do away with presidential term limits that currently prevent him from seeking reelection in 2012.
All but a handful of the National Assembly's 167 members are Chávez loyalists, and critics expect lawmakers to approve most -- if not all -- of the president's reform proposals.
Many lawmakers say they support the idea of eliminating presidential term limits, but they argue the same rules should not apply to state governors and mayors.
National Assembly President Celia Flores said lawmakers could finish the reform debate within two months. Under the constitution, the final draft of the proposal must be approved by voters in a referendum.
Roman Catholic leaders have been among the most outspoken critics of Chávez's plans to rewrite the constitution, and the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference has complained that his reform proposals were drafted without public involvement. Others argue Chávez has dangerously divided Venezuela along class lines.
Since his reelection to a fresh six-year term in December, Chávez stoked fears that he his headed toward Cuba-style communism by creating a single ruling party and nationalizing several of Venezuela's key industries, including the oil, telecommunications and electricity sectors.
Chávez, a former paratroop commander who was first elected in 1998, denies copying Cuba and insists that basic freedoms will be respected under his government. He says that democracy has flourished, rather than diminished, under his administration.
Chávez pushed through a new constitution in 1999 shortly after he was first elected. He says the charter must be redrafted in order to steer Venezuela away from capitalism.