Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez marked 10 years in power on Saturday, urging Venezuelans to pass a constitutional amendment to let him seek reelection indefinitely, as political foes closed ranks to derail the move.
“We have agreed to get the amendment campaign going in the National Assembly,” Chavez promised thousands of jubilant supporters waving Venezuelan and Cuban flags.
“Signatures will be collected to support it. We are going to celebrate Christmas on the campaign trail, on the warpath,” he said.
In his speech, the leftist Chavez, a flamboyant former paratrooper, said his 1998 election “opened the door to a new historic era” for the oil-rich, but still poverty-plagued South American country.
National Assembly lawmakers are almost all Chavez loyalists, as the opposition boycotted 2005 legislative elections in a bid to delegitimize the body.
A constitutional amendment can be proposed by 30 percent of the assembly’s lawmakers. Alternatively, one can be proposed directly by 15 percent of voters, or by the president in the Council of Ministers.
To win approval however the amendment must be approved in a referendum, which Chavez has said should be held by February.
“Just my hunch, but I think we are going to get it done by a large majority,” Chavez told supporters.
He argued that unlimited reelection was needed “to successfully complete, with no possible backtracking, the revolutionary process that now has profound ideological content: Bolivarian socialism.”
It was a reference to Chavez’s purported inspiration by the work of independence-era hero Simon Bolivar.
“We must be victorious on the path of the revolution. Only with a socialist revolution does Venezuela have a future. That is the path,” Chavez said, taking a much clearer cue from the everyday rhetoric of his communist Cuban allies.
Opposition party members made it plain that they would not make it easy for Chavez.
“We are preparing to fight on all fronts — in the courts and in the streets,” said Julio Borges, of the opposition center-right Justice First party.
Chavez, whose populist rhetoric and tough talk long has won the support of most Venezuelans, only a year ago saw the first challenges to his leftist revolution surface, and is scrambling to contain any losses. Meanwhile, soaring oil prices that had kept his coffers overflowing have slid.
Last December, a referendum that sought to declare Venezuela a socialist state and allow unlimited reelection failed, dealing Chavez his first major defeat at the ballot box.