Chavez wins first vote on extending his reign

The plan would change the constitution.

Associated Press
Published August 22, 2007

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's congress, dominated by allies of President Hugo Chavez, gave initial approval Tuesday to constitutional changes that would allow him to run for re-election and possibly govern for decades to come.

After about six hours of debate, National Assembly President Cilia Flores said Chavez's proposed changes to the constitution, including the lifting of presidential term limits, received "majority approval."

Flores did not say how many of the 167 lawmakers voted in favor of the changes, saying only that they were approved with overwhelming support. Final approval is expected within two or three months, and the changes would have to be approved by voters in a referendum.

The National Assembly has been solidly pro-Chavez since the opposition boycotted a 2005 vote, and lawmakers had been expected to sign off on the changes proposed by Chavez in Tuesday's first reading. The changes would extend presidential terms from six to seven years and allow Chavez to run again in 2013.

Government opponents have attacked the proposed changes, saying they would weaken democracy by permitting Chavez to become a lifelong leader like his ally Fidel Castro of Cuba.

Chavez, a former paratooper was re-elected by a wide margin in December on promises to steer the country toward socialism.

Ismael Garcia, one of the assembly's few dissidents, criticized pro-Chavez lawmakers for excluding opposition groups from the discussion, arguing that Venezuelans of all political leanings must be included in the debate before the proposed changes are put to a national vote.