Chavez: Distorting or Deepening Democracy with Voting Amendment?
Today in Caracas, Venezuela a referendum has been held to decide whether or not President Hugo Chavez will have the right to run for re-election indefinitely, a move that many see as an attempt to defend socialism. This is Chavez's second attempt to win this right.
Critics say removing term limits on the president and all other officials would distort democracy. Chavez — first elected in 1998 — said the proposed constitutional amendment would deepen democracy by giving voters more choice. He pointed out that Franklin Roosevelt was elected U.S. president four times.
"Ten years is nothing. I don't know what they're complaining about," he said Saturday.
The current constitution, itself created by a Chavez-backed referendum in 1999, allows two six-year terms.
The race in the polls appears close; some feel Chavez has provided numerous possibilities for Venezuelans that could be lost under another leader while others are concerned that having one person in perpetual power can have negative consequences.
Without a constitutional amendment, Chavez will have to leave office in 2013. He lost a broader referendum in December 2007 that also sought to abolish presidential term limits, and says nothing is stopping him from trying again if he loses this time.
Chavez says he needs the amendment to seek re-election in 2012 and complete Venezuela's transition to socialism — a process he has said could take another decade or more.
"It's a little change in the constitution. But the fact that it's little doesn't mean it won't have great repercussions in Venezuela and beyond," Chavez said.
Supporters of a "no" vote say a Chavez victory would remove the last remaining check on the president's power. Since the opposition boycotted the 2005 congressional elections, the Chavez-dominated National Assembly has packed The Supreme Court and National Electoral Council with Chavez allies, they say — giving the socialist leader almost total control.
A "no" vote could embolden the opposition ahead of next year's congressional vote.
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