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Venezuela's Chávez Pushes For Indefinite Rule Again
Venezuela's president goes on the attack against Opposition victories and again seeks a Constitutional amendment allowing indefinite re-election before falling oil prices begin to further erode his base.

By Jeremy Morgan & Russ Dallen
Latin American Herald Tribune staff

CARACAS -- Barely a week after the regional elections, President Hugo Chávez has resurrected his plan to lift a constitutional ban on successive re-election, which was rejected by voters in a referendum last December.

Chávez himself is unable to make the proposal a second time because he did so last time and it was voted down. This means somebody else will have to formally raise the issue on his behalf. Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, is barred from running again when his term as president expires in 2013.

The re-election proposal was defeated by a close margin of about two percentage points in Chávez' first reverse at the polls since he was first elected to power in late 1998. Until then, he'd grown used to prevailing at elections by margins of around two-thirds.

On Sunday, he announced that he had "authorized" his ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to do just that.

"I give the PSUV and the Venezuelan people my authorization to begin the debate and take the steps necessary to obtain that constitutional amendment and reelection of the president ... and I am sure that we will get it now," Chavez said at the swearing-in of Caracas' Libertador district's mayor Jorge Rodriguez.

Aside from Libertador, four out the five municipalities in the capital are now under opposition control including Sucre in the east of the city, which had been regarded as a stronghold of support for the president.

On Saturday, the Secretary General of the Social Democrat opposition party Accion Democratica (AD), Henry Ramos, predicted that the Government would try to put through a number of amendments to the Constitution, including the one that Chavez initiated Sunday.

Ramos theorizes that Chavez will use his dominance in the National Assembly (AN) -- where almost all legislators are completely loyal to the government after the Opposition dropped out of elections 3 years ago -- to introduce "within a short time four amendments."

Although since the defeat of the re-election amendment last year, Chavez has said on several occasions that he would not again promote unlimited presidential re-election, after the election last week he changed his tune and said it was in the hands of his allies to propose the amendment to rethink unlimited presidential re-election and, upon approval by the National Assembly, to bring it back for a referendum.

Article 343 of the 1999 Constitution that Chavez wrote details how the National Assembly is to deal with Constitutional Amendments. It requires that the draft constitutional reform be approved by two-thirds of the National Assembly, and then that the reform be approved in a referendum by a simple majority of the voters.

For his part, Ramos called the proposal by Chavez "illegal and unconstitutional" because Article 345 says that "A revised constitutional reform initiative may not be submitted during the same constitutional term of office of the National Assembly." Ramos doubted that the Judiciary -- who were all appointed by Chavez -- would block the President, however.

Analysts who predicted that Chavez would have another go at the apple believe that he is speeding up the process in order to act before tumbling oil prices limit his ability to distribute rents among the poor.

Also trying to polarize and win those votes back among his core constituency that he may have lost to the Opposition in last week's elections, Chávez went on the attack, accusing opposition leaders who won of dismantling institutions – not least of all his "missions" or social welfare programs – set up while the PSUV was in power in the constituencies which they now controlled.

This was in contrast with the reconciliatory tone adopted by the two big opposition inners, Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma in Caracas and Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski in Miranda state, which surrounds the capital.

On being proclaimed victors, both Ledezma and Capriles Radonski stated their willingness to work with the government. Chávez has made it quite clear he's not having any of that: Ledezma shouldn't come crying to him for funds, and Capriles Radonski was a fascist who should be behind bars, and he's warned that he'll be keeping a close eye on both of them.

This was in spite of Rodríguez' initial approach, in which he'd said he was willing to collaborate with his fellow mayors. Rodríguez issued the invitation in terms that almost made it seem he believed that the PSUV rather than the opposition had emerged victorious across the city, rather than the other way round.

Chávez was also on the class warpath. He took the middle classes to task for voting for the opposition. The election results were a "little reflection" that "counter-revolutionaries" and "fascists" hoped to rule the country as they once had. Instead, he vowed that, God willing, "I'll be with you in 2019 or 2021!"

After last weeks elections, some 45% percent of the population will now be governed by politicians from the opposition, who won in states representing around 70% of national economic activity.


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