[JURIST] The Venezuelan National Assembly [official website, in Spanish] gave preliminary approval Tuesday to comprehensive constitutional reforms introduced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] last week. No word was available on how many legislators voted for the reforms, but National Assembly president Cilia Flores said they received "majority approval." The proposed reforms extend the presidential term from six to seven years, eliminate the limit on the number of terms a president may serve, bring the currently independent Central Bank under the control of the government, and give the government greater authority to expropriate private property without court approval. After passing through the National Assembly, the reforms must receive popular backing in a national referendum to become law.
Critics have accused Chavez of seeking to further consolidate his power [JURIST report], while Chavez has defended his proposal as democratic because it will allow the Venezuelan people to keep their president in power as long as they like. In July, Chavez sought to reassure Venezuelans that the constitutional reforms will protect private property rights [JURIST report], and threatened to expel [AP report; Union Radio report, in Spanish] any foreign nationals who publicly criticized Chavez or his government. Chavez won re-election last December and was granted the power to enact laws by presidential decree [JURIST report] until mid-2008. He has pushed for "revolutionary laws" to nationalize sectors of the economy including mining, telecommunications, utilities, and the petroleum industry. AP has more.