July 19, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela's ruling party pledged Thursday to seek to reform the nation's constitution to let President Hugo Chavez seek indefinite re-election.
Proposed changes to end the two-term limit for presidents will be presented to Congress or the National Electoral Council and ultimately to voters after state and municipal elections now scheduled for November, said Freddy Bernal, a leader of Chavez's United Socialist Party.
"The purpose of this amendment is to ask the country if they want or don't want the re-election of President Hugo Chavez," Bernal said in a televised interview. "If we want peace, tranquility and development in the country, Hugo Chavez must continue being president."
Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, is barred from running again when his term expires in 2013.
Venezuelan voters rejected a sweeping package of reforms that would have ended presidential term limits by a vote of 51 percent to 49 percent in a national referendum last December, according to partial results released by Venezuela's National Electoral Council. The proposed reforms had raised concerns among government opponents that Chavez intends to serve as president for life.
Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, told a congressional panel in Washington Thursday that Chavez is an "ambitious politician" with intentions to remain in power for years to come. But he urged Chavez to "think about the possibility of an election in 2012 in which he cannot be a candidate."
Chavez _ a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro _ told supporters last year he could continue governing until 2027 if voters do away with re-election limits, saying he needs more time in office to establish a socialist economic model in Venezuela.
Opposition leaders predicted that voters would again reject any new proposal to end term limits.
"Venezuelans are growing tired of the government's failure to resolve pressing problems" such as soaring inflation, rampant crime and corruption, said Cesar Perez Vivas of Copei, one of Venezuela's oldest political parties.